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Japan Elderly Care Services Drawing Interest from Thailand, Other Asian Nations

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Thitinan Nakphu, right, a doctor from Thailand, visits a hospital in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture, in November to learn about Japan’s nursing care.

Japan’s elderly care services are drawing interest from other Asian countries that also face rapidly aging societies. These countries have dispatched care providers to Japan to examine long-term care facilities and receive training so that they can gain expertise to adopt into their local operations.

In early November, three older people with dementia were cleaning a park in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture. A group of nine visitors from Thailand, Vietnam, China and Singapore observed the way the three, who receive the services of a nearby daycare center, were contributing to their community.

The visitors included representatives of civil society organizations that provide support for the elderly. The Japan Center for International Exchange, which aims to help other Asian countries in dealing with issues related to population aging, was among the organizations that invited the visitors to learn about Japan’s elderly care services.

The following day, the group visited a hospital in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture, at which they observed patients undergoing rehabilitation at a geriatric health services facility attached to the medical institution.

One of the visitors, Thitinan Nakphu, a doctor from Thailand, said she was impressed to see how people with dementia are supported in their community, as well as close cooperation between a hospital and a long-term care facility. Her country, she said, is facing an aging population at an accelerated rate, but a sufficient support system has not been established for the older population as it is still in the phase of economic development.

“I think Japanese services cater to the needs of local residents,” Nakphu said. “I hope we can incorporate the best parts of Japanese care services into our operations in Thailand.”

A few initiatives inspired by Japan have been started in Thailand.

In Bueng Yitho, a city of about 35,000 about an hour’s drive from Bangkok, a “memory cafe” program started in May 2022. The program is held once a month at a cafe or a public facility, where people with dementia and their families gather to enjoy playing games and having chats with volunteer caregivers.

The Bueng Yitho municipal government has also begun a program to train “dementia supporters” at a local high school so that students can help residents with the condition in their community if necessary. The memory cafe program was introduced after senior officials at the municipal government visited Japan in 2019 to observe a similar program. They were invited by Nogezaka Glocal, a Yokohama-based organization that supports community building in various parts of Asia. The organization provides Thai officials with advice in the fields of elderly care and health promotion by working with the town government of Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, and local nursing care facilities.

Courtesy of Toshiyuki Okui
Participants play a game at a “memory cafe” in Bueng Yitho, Thailand, in May 2022.

Local Thai governments have increased interest in dementia measures after they found that about half the residents of their elderly care facilities have the disease, according to Toshiyuki Okui, a representative of Nogezaka Glocal who used to work in other Asian countries for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

A network of 26 municipalities in Thailand has been created to promote community-based elderly care, such as support measures for people with dementia, Okui added. “Thailand can learn from Japan’s experience about how to build communities that can support residents with dementia,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sompo Care Inc., a major nursing care provider, began a training program in late October in Seoul. The program, based on a similar program of Sompo’s in Japan, is being conducted for 25 workers at KB Golden Life Care Co., a local nursing care provider, for 18 months. This program was launched based on an agreement between the parent companies of the two firms.

Sompo Care gained its expertise from running nursing homes using cutting-edge equipment. The company has a lab that features a mock bedroom, bathroom and other rooms to re-create a real-life setting where nursing care services are provided. On display at the lab is technology such as devices that can sense nursing care patients’ urination and mattresses to prevent bedsores. This fiscal year, Sompo Care has received more than 40 delegations from South Korea, China, Singapore and other countries to observe its training programs.

“We’ve been using information and communication technology to improve our quality of nursing care and reduce the burden on our workers,” said Shigeru Ando, Sompo Care’s corporate director and executive officer in charge of its overseas strategies. “We hope to promote our services, which we’ve developed by taking advantage of Japan’s expertise, to other parts of Asia.”

Rapidly aging populations

Other parts of Asia are projected to have aging populations at a faster pace compared to Japan, requiring them to develop schemes to meet the growing need for nursing care.

According to the fiscal 2023 Annual Report on the Aging Society compiled by the Cabinet Office, people aged 65 or over accounted for 28.6% of Japan’s population in 2020, while the percentage stood at 15.8% in South Korea, 12.6% in China and 13.9% in Thailand. However, South Korea is projected to overtake Japan in around 2040.

An aging society is defined as having an older population of over 7%, and an aged society has the same demographic taking up over 14%. It took 72 years for the United States to become an aged society and 40 years for Germany. Japan experienced rapid aging of its population, taking just 24 years. Some countries are becoming an aged society at an even faster pace than Japan, with South Korea expected to take 18 years to reach that stage, while only 15 years are projected for Singapore, according to the report.

In 2016, the government launched the Asia Health and Wellbeing Initiative, under which it shares tips with other countries to help seniors maintain an independent life, such as exercises for the mouth to strengthen eating ability.

“Japan has an advantage in elderly care techniques,” said Yuma Nambu, vice president at Deloitte Tohmatsu Financial Advisory LLC. “By helping other Asian nations develop necessary human resources in this field, Japanese nursing care and equipment can proliferate.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Source: Cabinet Office’s Annual Report on the Aging Society (FY2023). Estimated figures for 2025 and later