News On Japan

How is Japan Tackling Epidemic of Elderly Dying Alone?

TOKYO, May 18 (News On Japan) - An estimated 68,000 elderly people die alone in Japan each year, according to recent data. From January to March this year, about 17,000 people aged 65 and over were found deceased in their homes.

Addressing this issue of social isolation in Japan is becoming increasingly important.

In Tokyo's Sugamo district, elderly residents shared their thoughts on this matter.

A man in his 70s living alone commented, 'It's fate, I suppose. Honestly, being alone is lonely.'

An elderly couple in their 80s mentioned, 'We try to always be together to avoid loneliness. We're discussing what to do if one of us ends up alone, considering options like moving into a care facility.'

A woman in her 70s living with her daughter's family said, 'Even though we live together, we have different living spaces. I do want to join in, but I don't want to be a burden.'

As the number of elderly living alone increases, studies suggest that social isolation can elevate the risks of stroke and dementia.

Combating 'Kodoku-shoku' with Virtual Reality

To tackle the issue of solitary meals, known as 'kodoku-shoku,' Hyogo Prefecture's Minamiawaji City initiated a project in 2017 called 'Virtual Granny.' This project allows elderly individuals to virtually dine with a grandmotherly figure via video.

Takayuki Doi from the city's Food Promotion Division explained, 'We want to prevent isolation and solitary meals among the elderly. Eating alone can be dull, but sharing a meal, even virtually, can make it enjoyable.'

In the videos, a grandmotherly figure says, 'Good morning. Breakfast is ready,' creating a sense of shared dining. This initiative provides a simulated experience of dining with a large family, making meals feel less lonely.

Ryusaburo Nakata, an associate professor at Hokusei Gakuen University, noted, 'Even seeing oneself in a mirror while eating can make the food taste better. We've confirmed with both elderly people and students that virtual dining improves the eating experience.'

Businesses Turning 'Kodoku-shoku' into Opportunities

Businesses are also exploring ways to reduce solitary dining. A startup named 'shokujii' organizes lunch events aimed at fostering communal dining experiences.

At a recent lunch, 12 participants, mostly aged 20 to 50 and living alone, gathered to share a meal. These events, held around 30 times a month at community spaces and senior centers, facilitate social interaction and reduce loneliness.

Ken Soga, a 41-year-old certified public accountant, said, 'Living alone at 41, I join these events hoping to meet new people. At home, I have a cat, so I'm not lonely, but cats aren't conversational partners.'

Mayu Sato, a 29-year-old engineer, added, 'These gatherings are enjoyable and make meals tastier. Cooking for oneself can be tedious and limited in variety, but dining with others expands the menu.'

Naohiro Yasukawa, president of Nijyuu-ni, which operates shokujii, reflected, 'The pandemic made loneliness unbearable. We don't want to return to that state and hope to reduce the number of people feeling that way.'

These efforts highlight the importance of addressing social isolation and finding innovative ways to connect individuals, especially the elderly, to foster a sense of community and improve quality of life.

Source: ANN

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