Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Univ of Tokyo working toward creation of longer-living society

TOKYO —   
The University of Tokyo has launched a project to turn the city of Kashiwa in Chiba Prefecture into a community geared toward the elderly in light of Japan’s aging population.
The project comes about 20 years before one-third of Japan’s population is projected to be categorized as elderly.
Kashiwa will have homecare facilities available for 24 hours a day, housing complexes that incorporate workplaces and other facilities designed with the elderly in mind.
‘‘Current society deals with the possibility of a pyramid-shaped population makeup, with children and the aged accounting for 30% and 5%, respectively,’’ said Hiroko Akiyama, a professor at the univers
ity’s Institute of Gerontology.
People aged 65 and older accounted for about 20% of the total population in 2005, and the percentage is estimated to rise to about 32% in 2030 and some 41% in 2055. The ranks of those aged 75 and older will increase particularly sharply, leaving the existing medical care system ill-equipped to deal with the trend.
On the other hand, a survey by the University of Tokyo found that many aged people require no nursing care until reaching their mid-70s. ‘‘The biggest challenge is how society can get the most out of the elderly who are still active. We need to create a sustainable system by focusing on the future,’’ she said.
Kashiwa represents the project’s first stage. With a population of about 400,000, the city is an average bedroom community of Tokyo, about 30 minutes by train from the center of the metropolis.
Many working households moved into the Toyoshikidai housing complex built in front of Kashiwa railway station in the 1960s. The structure has fallen into disrepair, and one-third of residents are aged 65 or older.
Akiyama said, ‘‘That is almost the same proportion of elderly as Japan will have 20 years from now. The complex is an ideal setting for community revitalization through improved housing.’‘
The vision shared by the university, the Kashiwa municipal government and the Urban Renaissance Agency is to demolish old five-story residential buildings and replace them with barrier-free 10- to 14-story condominium blocks equipped with elevators.
Situated centrally in each of the new blocks will be a medical clinic, capable of providing 24-hour, in-home care, and a center for home nursing visits and care, so those with relatively minor ailments do not have to go to a large hospital.
The project emphasizes the maintenance of mental as well as physical health. Quite a few residents of the old housing blocks were found to confine themselves at home after retirement. Many were also found to hate commuting in crowded trains, wishing instead to work hours of their own choosing.
With these aged residents in mind, a plan was drafted to create urban agriculture at idle fields nearby and farms on the roofs of the buildings. Also considered is the construction of a community restaurant where residents can socialize and work.
At the restaurant, takeout dishes will be available for aged residents living alone and working women. The elderly will also assist in childcare, including after-school care for children.
Seiichi Kimura, director of the Health and Welfare Department at the Kashiwa municipal government, said, ‘‘Our objective is to realize an environment like this in four to five years.’‘
The University of Tokyo is also studying a similar project in Fukui City on the Sea of Japan coast. Public transportation networks are not sufficient in residential areas spreading on the outskirts of major cities, and vehicles are often required to go shopping and visit hospitals.
The rate of dual-income families is high in Fukui, capital of Fukui Prefecture, and with many including elderly relatives requiring nursing care, demand is said to be particularly high for special aged-care nursing homes.
‘‘Along with the municipal government, we are trying to get a feel for what steps are needed, but no concrete measure has been found yet,’’ Akiyama said. The construction of group houses for the aged in front of stations and near public facilities is being studied, along with an experiment for a public transportation system designed to be easily used by the elderly.
The University of Tokyo will call on other universities throughout the country to create a network.
‘‘Problems concerning the aged differ depending on the area. We would like to create a rich, long-living society where people can lead a pleasant life in good spirits, by sharing knowledge in partnership with other universities,’’ Akiyama said.

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