Alone and unaccounted: Japan’s missing centenarians

August 23, 2010 by  
Filed under AGING

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Japan is supposedly the country with the highest number of centenarians and also with one of the highest life expectancy. The headlines below during the past decade attested to this.

Records show that one in every 3522 people in Japan was aged over 100 and this extraordinary longevity has been credit to healthy diet and lifestyle. 87% of the centenarians were women. The actual Japanese centenarian count last year was 40,399. Last month, Japan’s average life expectancy is a world-best 86.44 years for women, while men are fifth globally at 79.59 years.

The latest scandal about missing senior citizens and the possibility of large-scale pension fraud, however, may put the above mentioned figures in question.

It all started with the discovery of 30-year-old corpse of a man registered as aged 111. He has been receiving pension all this time. The incident opened a can of worms as more and more 100 plus years could not be found. As of August 13, 2010, almost 200 centenarians still on social benefits could not be located. This could just be the tip of an iceberg of pension fraud. However, these incidences also highlight some problems that are not unique to Japan.

More and more elderly people live alone and die alone. The old family tradition of older parents living with their children does not hold true anymore. According to an editorial in the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun:

“The families who are supposed to be closest to these elderly people don’t know where they are and, in many cases, have not even taken the trouble to ask the police to search for them. The situation shows the existence of lonely people who have no family to turn to and whose ties with those around them have been severed.”

There are disadvantages to too much respect for privacy. It seems that infringement on people’s privacy is a big issue in Japan, thus making it difficult to keep track or track down the missing centenarians unless family members declare them missing and ask the authorities for assistance. The authorities cannot do anything if the families refuse to cooperate.

There are loopholes in the social system. The social systems of developed countries spend a lot of money on health insurance and pension for the elderly. However, it is easy to exploit or even cheat the system. The Asahi editorial continues:

Unless death notifications are filed, payments usually do not stop. Even when the beneficiary is no longer present, families who manage an old person’s account could intentionally not file death notices so they can keep spending the pension…”

Our society is aging with low birth rate and like Japan, the social welfare system of most countries is not designed for this. The problems discussed here are just a few of what we are facing in the coming years.

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