GiFT 2011 “Research to Support an Aging Society”

GiFT 2011 “Research to Support an Aging Society”


I’m Asuna Arai from the Graduate School of Medicine. Let me ask you this question. What image does the term research bring to mind? In my case, it conjures up a variety of images, Such as shaking a test tube in a laboratory, poring over books and investigating vast fields of potential knowledge. The way I see it, research clarifies things, but also increases the number of things we don’t understand. I think research is endless. Because of this, we need energy to continue research, and we need to clearly understand why we’re researching. I’d like to introduce three motives for research. 1. Curiosity and interest in the subject 2. The desire to be useful 3. The desire to build knowledge through research as academic work My field of research involves elderly people. My love of my grandparents prompted me to think about what I could do for the elderly. Considering elderly people living at home, I came to think it would be ideal for them to continue living how they want in familiar surroundings. For this, staying healthy is essential. I started researching because I wanted to identify factors in a society with older people that are crucial for maintaining the health of the elderly and ensuring their wellbeing. The field covering the prevention of diseases, staying healthy and living longer is called preventive medicine. (How old are elderly people?) The first thing to do in research on elderly people was to define them. Do you know the definition of elderly? The truth is, there isn’t one. It would be odd to judge that people suddenly become elderly at a specific point in their lives. But the U.N., other international organizations and Japanese law often define people aged 65 or older as elderly. (Aging society)The society is referred to as aging when the proportion of people aged 65 or older exceeds 7 percent of the total population. Japan became an aging society in 1970. When the figure exceeds 14 percent, it’s an aged society. Japan surpassed this threshold in 1997. In Japan, it took 27 years for the proportion of the elderly population to rise from 7 to 14 percent. This shows that the elderly population grew faster than that of any other country in the world. The proportion of the elderly population exceeded 21 percent in 2007, and stood at 23 percent in the 2010 population census. So, people aged 65 or older are defined as elderly, and societies with large elderly populations are referred to by specific terms. A variety of issues have surfaced in societies with large elderly populations. A bigger elderly population means a greater need for nursing care and medical services. (Issues surrounding elderly people) This graph shows annual changes in medical care expenditure for elderly people. In 2009, spending on people aged 75 or older amounted to about 12 trillion yen, or about 30 percent of national medical care expenditure. Balancing benefits with the burden of medical care expenditure is a major challenge, and the balance is greatly affected by the age structure of the population. Other major challenges in an aged society include securing enough manpower for nursing care and medical services and providing living spaces with these services. Also, there’s still no cure for dementia, which affects a lot of elderly people. Considering the possibility of an increased incidence of dementia, we need to think about proper nursing care. We also can’t ignore the high suicide rate among elderly people. This graph shows suicide rates by age and gender. We see high rates among middle-aged men and people aged 85 or older. The suicide rate of women also increases gradually as they get older. Given this background, we need to ensure early detection and treatment of depression among the elderly because it contributes to higher suicide rates. These considerations are sometimes referred to as “aging issues,” but this expression implies that elderly people are the problem. In a society with aging issues, is addressing the issues what we strive for? Rather, I think it’s necessary to create societies and communities where elderly people aren’t considered problematic. (Diversity among elderly people) Of course, creating societies and communities like this isn’t easy. Elderly people’s physical and mental health is affected by various things they’ve experienced since they were born. Individually unique factors, like innate characteristics and experiences, also have a significant impact on health. We’re all members of society, so we can’t ignore the impact of the surrounding environment on our health. (Diversity in communities) Let’s consider local communities. Everybody here comes from various places – big cities, small villages, towns with prosperous agriculture, forestry or fishing industries, and towns with thriving service businesses. Snowy Hokkaido and tropical Okinawa also have different climates, lifestyles and cultures. Removing obstacles in their daily lives would support the health and self-reliance of elderly people. Creating a society where they can enjoy living with their own diversities would also support their health. Next, let’s look at a study I conducted as a graduate student. (Mental health survey) It involved a mental health survey for elderly people in a town with a high rate of elderly suicide. In the town, a detailed physical health survey was conducted every year, but mental health among the elderly was neglected. We recommended carrying out a survey on the actual mental health of elderly people. Mental health has various aspects, but we conducted a questionnaire survey on depressive tendencies. The survey revealed that more than 10 percent of women among about 660 elderly citizens living at home had poor mental health. People who frequently drank, those who had suffered from heart disease or strokes and those who felt financially constrained tended to feel depressed. We shared these results with local public health nurses and doctors, and efforts were made to establish a local framework for preventing depression. We distributed handbooks on the subject to elderly residents. We also used the town’s PR activities to provide information to families of elderly people and those around them. The aims of research are closely related to the application of research results. An example of application is making academic contributions (like presenting outcomes at academic conferences or publishing them in articles). Advancing social systems by reporting research results to local communities is also another example. My grandmother is fit and well, and is pleased that I study elderly people. She says she’s glad that young people have an interest in them. What I can do as an individual researcher might be limited, but I believe showing my interest to others is also part of the significance of research. I hope you’ll find something that makes you curious and stimulates your interest as you continue your studies at university, and that you’ll think about pursuing research on it as a future career option. Thank you for your attention.

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