Missing centenarians cause angst in aging Japan

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Before World War II, about 90 percent of older parents lived with their children, a figure that has fallen below 50 percent today, said Katsuya Inoue, professor emeritus of psychology at Tsukuba University.

While that remains higher than in many Western countries, the rapid change has left many older people with few social ties and a porous support network.

“People used to take care of their aging parents. But with rapid changes in lifestyles, the very idea of taking care of one’s parents seems to be waning,” Inoue said.

The problem is exacerbated by a shortage of nursing homes.

The government has introduced a health insurance system to deal with ballooning medical costs for people over the age of 75, stepped up programs that encourage older citizens to stay active and is gradually extending the retirement age to 65 from 60.

But the recent revelations about the centenarians underscore how easy it can be to fall through the cracks.

Each centenarian receives a letter and a gift from a local government office, usually by mail. Little is done to confirm their circumstances, however.

Fewer than half of the country’s 47 prefectures (states) regularly keep track of centenarians in person. Stung by the growing reports of unaccounted-for centenarians, Health and Welfare Minister Akira Nagatsuma has urged officials to find a better way to monitor the elderly.

“Many people have doubts whether the government properly keeps track of senior citizens’ whereabouts,” he said. “It is important for public offices to check up on them _ where and how they are _ and follow through all the way.”

Nagatsuma suggested face-to-face meetings between local officials and all citizens over 110 years old to prove they are alive and well. Fewer than 100 people are believed to be in that category.

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Associated Press writer Shino Yuasa contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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