Health Status vol.1

Health Status of the Japanese Elderly

At recent events on aging which took place in Japan (e.g., The 7th Asia/Oceania Regional Congress of Gerontology in November 2003, Symposium for Global Partnership on Ageing in December 2003), a number of participants showed interests in health status and life styles of the Japanese elderly. This high level of interest may be at least partly due to the fact that Japanese people, both males and females, have the longest health expectancy (according to WHO) in the world.

JARC publishes statistical data (“Statistical Abstracts of Aging in Japan”) on life expectancies and causes of deaths of Japanese people every other year. In the present report, we will look at more detailed research data (though they are sample studies) on health status of older adults.

Several studies cover issues related to life styles and health of the Japanese elderly, such as “Comprehensive Survey of Living Condition of the People on Health and Welfare (Kokumin Seikatsu Kiso Chousa)” by Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare. We would like to talk about results of another study which is easy to understand: “Survey of Attitudes toward Health among the Elderly (Koureisha no Kenkou ni Kansuru Ishiki Chousa)” by the Cabinet Office.

This study is conducted with a national sample of 3000 people aged 65 and over, of which 1500 are aged 75 and over. The subjects are randomly selected and interviewed, and the study is conducted every 5 years. The latest data were collected in December 2002, and the results were announced in the summer of 2003. In this report we would like to give a summary of the latest study.

Health Status vol.2

1. “Survey of Attitudes toward Health among the Elderly” (by Division of the Aging Society, Cabinet Office)

The sample consists of 3000 people aged 65 and over, of which 41.8% are males and 58.2% are females.

(1) Health Status

When asked about their overall health status, about a half of the respondents (47.4%) reported “excellent” or “good,” 0.8% higher than 5 years before. The proportion of the respondents who reported their health as “poor” or “very poor” declined by 1.3% in 5 years to 26.6%. The proportion of those who rated their health as “fair” was 25.8%, showing little change in 5 years (Table 1).

Table 1: Health Status (%)
Year Excellent Good Fair Poor Very Poor D.K
1997.Feb. 23.8 22.8 25.5 21.3 6.6 0.1
2002.Dec. 24.8 22.6 25.8 20.4 6.1 0.2

In addition, 21.2% of the respondents reported they had health problem(s) that would affect their daily living, while the other 78.7% had no such problem. As for long-term care needs, 8.9% of the respondents either used or were eligible to use services under the national long-term care insurance. Additional 0.8% was applying for the insurance eligibility at the time of the survey, and the rest (about 90%) had no need for long-term care services.

(2) Efforts to Maintain and/or Improve Health

The questions in this section included whether the respondents made such efforts to maintain and/or improve their health as “taking plenty of rests and sleep,” “having nutritionally balanced meals,” and “taking periodic check-ups.” The respondents were more likely to say “Yes” to all of these items than 5 years before, confirming that older adults are making more efforts to stay healthy in recent years.

Related to this subject is the frequency of going out. The survey showed that 41.7% of the respondents went out almost every day. In addition, most respondents reported they tried to have meals with their family members (e.g., spouse, children), while only 16.1% of the respondents said they had meals by themselves.

(3) Medical Services

When asked about informed consents, 10.6% said the system was inadequate. This number is about a half compared with 5 years before (20.2%), suggesting improvement of the services by health care providers.

About life-sustaining treatment at the terminal stage, only 9.2% said they would like to have all the available medical services available to prolong their lives. This number was lower than 5 years before. Most respondents (81.1%) preferred not having the services only to prolong their lives. However, when asked about life-sustaining treatment for their family members, 18.8%, or about twice as many respondents, said they would like to have all the services to prolong their family’s lives.

(4) Health Promotion

As for expectations for the national and local governments regarding health promotion of the elderly, popular responses included “addressing dementia issues (26.2%)” and “prevention of becoming bed-ridden (23.8%).” More than one-third of the respondents (38.6%) had no particular expectation for governments regarding health promotion, showing dramatic growth from 24.9% in the previous survey, which suggests that older adults are increasingly interested in controlling their own health through their mind, exercise and balanced meals.

Next, we would like to talk about another related survey of 1500 “Opinion Members” of Japan NGO Council on Ageing (JANCA). JANCA consists of NGOs which address issues on aging. More detailed information about JANCA will be given later in this report.

Health Status vol.3

JANCA plans its activities based on members’ consensus through surveys of its “Opinion Members,” who are members of the participating organizations. In 2003, JANCA conducted a survey on pubic pension reforms, which also included several questions on the respondents’ health status and health maintenance efforts. The following is a summary of this survey.

(1) Health Status

The average age of the respondents was 67.5, none of whom needed long-term care. Their health status was rated quite well and much better than the general elderly population, with 33.0% reporting “very good and active” and additional 59.1% reporting “good and active.” On the other hand, 6.5% of the respondents reported they were ill but active.

(2) Efforts to Maintain and/or Improve Health

About their efforts to stay healthy, 81.3% said they watched their diet, 61.8% took periodic check-ups, and 51.7% reported they tried to have a plenty of sleep. These numbers suggest that the Opinion Members are more proactive in maintaining their health (Table 2).

Table 2: Efforts to Stay Healthy
Number %
Total 814 100.0
Watch what I eat 662 81.3
Have a plenty of sleep 421 51.7
Exercise regularly 377 46.3
Have a home doctor 354 43.5
Take periodic check-ups 503 61.8
Try to train body and mind 206 25.3
Other 24 2.9
Go with the flow 178 21.9
No Answer 0 0

The survey also asked about the purpose of social participation. About two-thirds (64.0%) reported the purpose was physical and mental health, strongly suggesting that social participation activities would be beneficial for physical and mental health.

Japan NGO Council on Ageing (JANCA)

In our previous report, we talked about declining labor force participation rates among middle-aged and older adults due to the economic hardship in Japan. In the meantime, there has been a growth in voluntary activities in this age group, searching for “Ikigai shurou (working as an aim of life).” We talked about JANCA as an example of such a trend, promising that we would provide more information on JANCA later. Now seems to be the good time to give an overview of JANCA.

JANCA was founded in October 1998 by a group of Japanese NGOs, which agreed with the United Nations’ 5 Principles for Older Persons (“Independence”, “Self-fulfillment”, “Participation”, “Care”, and “Dignity”) and the International Year of Older Persons (IYOP) 1999 theme (“Towards a society for all ages”). The goal of JANCA is to make collaborative efforts to address needs of an aging society. Based on the 5 Principles and the IYOP theme, JANCA made the Charter for Older Persons. Since the IYOP, JANCA has been active in holding educational events as well as conducting PR activities and making recommendations for the society.