Does Japan hold important lessons for Australian aged care?

May 5, 2015 | Aged Care Finance

Australia faces challenges in both health and aged care – and these two critical industries are vital as the population of the country continues to climb, and grow older.

While it can seem like the country is alone in dealing with these ageing issues – other nations are already in the midst of the same problems. In this regard, Japan holds important lessons for the Australian aged care sector, and providers and government departments stand to benefit from taking a closer look at the Asian nation.

Changing populations

There's no hiding the fact that the number people over the age of 65 continues to climb in Australia, year after year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The median aged of the population has increased by 4 years over the past two decades, with McCrindle also finding the ratio of working-age individuals to retired couples dropping in turn.

This means challenges for the country – as many elderly Australians are unlikely to be in suitable financial standing to live happily and healthily as they grow older.

Aged care faces many issues - including funding sustainability.

Aged care faces many issues – including funding sustainability.

Being older doesn't mean significant lifestyle detriments in Japan, however, with a paper in The Lancet Japan Series finding that 85 per cent of those over the age of 65 witness no impediments to their daily lives. More than half say they have no financial hardship.

It's important that financial independence be maintained: if elderly Australians can live outside of facilities longer, there's going to be less strain on these locations to provide care.

A focus on technology

By 1989, 11.6 per cent of Japan's population was over the age of 65. Come 2006, this had risen substantially to hit 20 per cent. When 2035 rolls around, the percentage will climb to reach 38 per cent.

Given that Japan is seeing such a rapidly ageing population, increasing year after year, it's no surprise the country is turning to innovative means to care for the population. Unsurprisingly for the country that pioneered modern consumer electronics, technology is going to play a big part.

Australian Ageing Agenda reported last year that Hitoshi Fukomoto, executive director of Kinoshita Care, believes robots could deliver a higher standard of care than skilled workers with poor training. He explained how his organisation was investigating cutting-edge technologies to see if there were any worth leveraging.

"While robots cannot exceed the best quality care workers, they are a lot more efficient and deliver better care than the workers with no or poor skills," he explained. "This technology can reduce the workload of families or care workers."

So is there any thing to gain from technology? Yes, but it could be some time before robots are more beneficial than unskilled workers.

Ahead of the curve

Perhaps the most important lesson for Australia is the fact that Japan is currently ahead of the curve, dealing with issues that Australia will face in in the near future. By understanding these challenges, the Australian aged care sector will be able to face them in turn.

Being older doesn't mean significant lifestyle detriments in Japan

Across the globe, there are few sectors ready to face the long-term challenges of aged care. Unlike many other industries, however, aged care is one where the problem can be easily mapped out and prepared for: the population of people over the age of 65 continues to grow, and it's not likely to slow at any point over the next few decades.

It's going to be of critical importance that countries such as Australia and Japan collaborate to manage the problem effectively.

What do you think are the biggest opportunities for success in the aged care industry today? Please contact us and let us know!