Despite having a reputation for showcasing some of the best trendsetting technology in the world, including AI advancement and kooky house robots, in Japan, tradition is still hugely important. People look forward to the New Year visit to their local shrines, flying home to their families during Golden Week and observing the beauty of ‘Hanami, or cherry blossom season. Like most of Asia, Japan places great stock in previous family members, ancestors who have now passed over and so should be respected at all times. Looking after your relatives is expected, be they younger siblings or ageing parents and this sense of community is firmly ingrained in Japanese culture.
Japan also has one of the healthiest diets on earth so people tend to live for many years more than they would elsewhere in the world. In Japan, it isn’t unheard of for men, and women in their eighties, nineties and even past hundred to still be working full time. However, with an ageing population, Japan is getting a worrying preview of the Dementia crisis that’ll sweep the globe in the years ahead. Recently the Japanese Health Ministry stated:
4.6 million people are suffering from some form of dementia, with the total expected to soar to about 7.3 million people – or one in five Japanese aged 65 or over – by 2025.
When you consider that right now in the UK over 850,000 people have received a Dementia diagnosis well, that’s bad enough. But those numbers are nothing compared to what the Japanese government is facing in terms of costs. In 2015, Japan began to implement the slightly ominous sounding ‘Orange plan’ but in reality, their recommendations will look to save thousands of lives.
The plan centres on a ‘total community’ approach where everyone plays their part to reduce the need for larger medical facilities. The package of measures includes an increased training budget for Dementia specialists, new drugs, in-home visits and support teams for friends and family.
In one Japanese town, measures are already in place as experts predict by 2025 they’ll be almost 30,000 people living with dementia in Matsudo alone. So what are they doing? Well, unlike in the UK where most people are only just waking up to the impact of Dementia, most Japanese people are very understanding of the condition and will do anything they can do to help.
Cafe’s and drop-in centres are up and running. Local businesses are spreading awareness and stickers are available, with QR codes on them, that can be easily worn on clothes. What this means is that instead of having to ask endless questions, problematic for someone with Dementia who has wandered off, police officers can just scan the code and immediately there’s that person’s details.
Volunteers who have attended the 90-minute Dementia focused lecture have the opportunity to be dementia supporters. Armed with bright orange bracelets/ bibs they join neighbourhood patrols, visiting those who have signed up to the home visit scheme, handing out flyers on dementia support services and keeping an eye on anyone they see around town who looks a little lost or confused.
Does it work though?
Well, official figures say almost 22,000 people are ‘dementia-aware’ while 3000 patrol regularly and others set up cafes, and ad-hoc meetings every month. It is, I have to say, far more public involvement than what I’ve witnessed in the UK- and this is just one town. While incidents rarely happen The Guardian article shared this story by Hiroyuki Yamamoto, a dedicated dementia-aware volunteer.
One day he spotted a women pushing a bike, sans umbrella, in the pouring rain. Worried, Hiroyuki sparked up a conversation with the lady who told him she was going to Nagano. Nagano happens to be a town that’s almost four hours away by car! Luckily, he persuaded her not to continue her solo journey and waited with her until police took her home to her worried family.
It seems that Japan is already firmly ahead of the global Dementia crisis rearing its ugly head in our society. When I read about the kindness shown by the volunteers, and how the town is using technology to safeguard its most vulnerable residents I loved Japan even more.
So could these measures be adopted in all UK towns? Absolutely.
Should more people volunteer their time to help those who can’t go shopping or to the library alone? Definitely.
Does our government need a version of the Orange plan? 100 %.
In my opinion, the problem lies in the public’s perception of older people. Whereas Japanese citizens have been taught to respect their elders since birth, in the UK family values seem to have slipped down the ladder and now sit somewhere behind reality TV and cat memes.
We have to remember our British spirit of community and get out there, making friends with our neighbours and then listening to their stories. We have to understand that there’s still no cure for Dementia and that millions of people will develop this awful disease.
I’m not saying that we don’t care in the UK, because we do, but it’s small streams of compassion instead of flowing rivers of generosity.
We could learn so, so much from how Japan is tackling the issue of Dementia head-on out in the community- if only more people were willing to listen.