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Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010


Faded bonds with the oldest

There are more than 40,000 people aged 100 or over in Japan and this number is expected to increase. In 2009, Japanese women had the world's longest life expectancy of 86.44 years and men the world's fifth longest life expectancy of 79.59 years. Japan is certainly a country of long life expectancy. But recent events highlight a problem — some families have very weak bonds with elderly relatives.

In late July, the mummified body of a man was found in his house in Adachi Ward, Tokyo. Until recently the ward office believed that he was Tokyo's oldest living man at age 111. A district welfare commissioner's complaint in January that it was impossible to meet him eventually led to the discovery of his body. It is believed that he had been dead for more than 30 years. Four family members, including his 81-year-old daughter, have been living in the same house.

Soon afterward it surfaced that the location of a 113-year-old woman, registered in Tokyo's Suginami Ward and regarded as Tokyo's oldest living person, was unknown. Her 79-year-old eldest daughter said the last time she saw her mother was more than 20 years ago. Her second eldest daughter had not contacted her family members for some 50 years and did not want to meet them. Her second eldest son said his mother went away some 30 years ago. (Her eldest son is dead.)

Kyodo News reports that as of Aug. 5, the location of 44 people aged 100 years or over in Tokyo and 16 other prefectures was unknown. Remarks from their relatives include: "About 30 years ago he went away to live in a facility. I don't know where he is now." And "He went to Nishi Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, 30 years ago. Since then I have not contacted him."

Local government workers and district welfare commissioners do not have the legal authority to meet elderly people if their families refuse to let them. The central and local governments should use every possible means to locate elderly people, which is obviously the first step in helping them in case they are in need and in preventing usurpation of their pension benefits.

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