Aging in Place: What Canada can learn from Japan5 minutes
Aging is a complex topic. And where much of the debate is often spent focused on the healthcare spending implications, there are many other elements that need to be explored. For example, isolation of seniors has real implications for our society. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, social connection should be a public health priority. As our population continues to age, the result will be a dramatic greying of Canada’s demography – one that has implications for housing, the healthcare system, national economy, and government policy.
To prepare for this impending wave of seniors – the largest cohort ever according to Statistics Canada - Canada needs to rethink how it supports the aging population through the implementation of functional housing and care solutions that will allow them to thrive within their communities.
By 2031, nearly one in four Canadians will be over the age of 65. Thankfully we can look to other nations who are grappling with this situation. In Japan this demographic shift will happen over next 10 to 20 years. Because Japan’s government, businesses and society are facing these challenges earlier than North American countries, we can learn and benefit from their innovations and technology and start considering how we can better serve our seniors.
In fact, as the Japanese recognized isolation would have a negative impact on its large senior population, a steady increase in retirement communities emerged throughout the country. Not simply homes, communities. City planning and design has a focus on senior support, which better enables elders and healthcare workers to lead healthier lives.
A recent report from Senior Care Canada examined senior care in Japan, highlighting how the government has worked hard to quickly problem-solve and create solutions as demand for senior care services has grown. In addition to implementing innovative products to assist the elderly and their caregivers, they have also restructured resources, such as schools that were no longer required, to convert them to care and community centres for seniors. This has translated into a better quality of life.
How can Canada learn from this model?
As a society we need to learn how to design for purpose and function, not just the lowest cost. By investing in innovative solutions that will enable our seniors to thrive, we are providing a strong foundation for them to maintain their health, lifestyle and independence.
Panasonic recognized the importance of merging the various aspects of caregiver services with housing solutions and the positive impact it could have on Japanese senior citizens and healthcare workers, and created a functional facility in Owada, called Age-Free Life.
Uniquely, Age-Free Life was designed by “living environment planners” who fully understand both architecture and nursing care. By employing this level of expertise, Panasonic has built long-term relationships of trust by providing home remodeling services for nursing care based on construction circumstances and the physical conditions of the individual.
By increasing the synergistic effect, Age-Free Life better enables Japan’s seniors to thrive and lead healthy lives in their golden years while decreasing the strain on social and healthcare services.
While the example in Japan is on a large scale, there are smaller scale things we can look at as we prepare for the pending wave of seniors in our nation. We can look at how homes are designed and built to ensure that seniors can live at home longer – from storage to accessibility support. Looking at residential care can we invest in products that help our healthcare workers provide care that will not harm their bodies as well?
What Canadians can extract from Japan’s model, is the duty private industries and the government have to prepare for changes in our demographics.
It is more important than ever to invest in infrastructure, products and services that will help seniors remain independent, while ensuring healthcare workers are supported. Architects and builders need to evaluate and anticipate the needs of Canadian seniors, to ensure sustainable housing is in place.
We need to rethink our approach to support the aging population by implementing functional housing and care solutions that will allow seniors to thrive, before senior care becomes a healthcare or financial crisis.