Elderly People Living Alone: Provide Official Support to Prevent Isolation

In order for elderly people to be able to live alone with peace of mind, it is essential for them to receive care and support from people around them. The central and local governments should devise ways to extend a helping hand.

Late last year, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ordered inter-ministry discussions to be conducted on measures to support elderly people who have no relatives to rely on.

The 2020 national census found 6.72 million single-person households aged 65 or older. One in five elderly people lived alone, a 40% increase from 10 years prior.

As the nuclear family has become more common, fewer and fewer households have three generations living together. The households of married couples will become single-person households when a spouse passes away.

This is not a problem when an elderly person living alone is in good health. However, it can become difficult for them to manage their finances and take care of administrative procedures as their physical strength and judgment deteriorate. Frequently, administrative bodies are forced to deal with the situation after the death of an elderly person living alone, because relatives cannot be found to hold funeral services or take care of the deceased’s belongings.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is conducting a survey to ascertain the situation regarding elderly people who have no relatives. It aims to identify what needs to be done, based on the problems these people are facing.

One issue that has arisen in recent years involves the procedures for moving into a nursing home or being admitted to a hospital. In many cases, nursing facilities and hospitals require a guarantor, such as a child, but elderly people living alone are said to sometimes be unable to find a guarantor and are refused admission.

The central government has notified such facilities that they must not refuse to accept elderly people because they cannot find a guarantor. However, the facilities may want to know who to contact in case of an emergency and to ensure payment.

Recently, an increasing number of private businesses act as “guarantors” for people who have no relatives. With such services, elderly people can sign contracts with companies to act as their guarantors. There are also services that handle property management and postmortem procedures on behalf of family members.

However, there is no government agency that oversees these services, and problems involving money have occurred. In 2016, a business in Tokyo was found to have misappropriated money collected from elderly people, and the funds were not returned to the clients.

The number of elderly people living alone will continue to increase. Shouldn’t the central government establish certain regulations to ensure that guarantor services can be used with peace of mind? One idea would be to introduce a system to screen service providers and eliminate those who engage in wrongdoing.

In order to prevent elderly people from becoming isolated, it is important for the elderly to be involved in the community on a regular basis and to keep in touch with other people. It would also be effective for them to compile information about themselves in case of emergencies.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 4, 2024)