Dementia care in Japan is being solved through volunteer schemes, not government

This post comes to us from the UK source, The Guardian. You can read the original article by clicking on the title below. I think that utilizing volunteers to support dementia is a wonderful strategy! It serves to train and educate the wider public, getting them involved in compassionate care, and also raises awareness and reduces stigma. PLUS, then there is a whole force of people who are trained, ready, and able to help people with dementia to stay active and engaged in their communities and lives.

By Mayumi Hayashi on November 18, 2014

Community projects, such as open houses which provide all-day care, are innovative and low-cost

japan dementia

4.6 million people in Japan are living with dementia. Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA

With the world’s fastest ageing population where one in four are over 65 and there are 4.6 million people (15% of the older population) living with dementia, Japan is struggling to find sustainable and affordable solutions. With the world’s highest level of debt – 230% of national GDP – these solutions to the challenge of dementia must be both innovative and cost-effective.

While political leaders take the stage in Tokyo to promote their “big” dementia policies, at ground level grassroots initiatives are helping to make communities dementia friendly. Central government is beginning to take notice, appreciate and even promote these volunteer-led examples of dementia care and support. This positive response reflects the overriding economic pressures and concerns – to defuse the “ticking time-bomb” of dementia.

The sophisticated long term care insurance system, which is universal and funded partly by tax, partly by insurance contributions, ensures robust national provision for dementia care and support. It is part of the overall drive for an integrated community care system by 2025, when people aged 65 and over will exceed 30% of the population. But fresh new voluntary approaches are supporting the publicly-funded health and care provision.

Free from bureaucracy (exacting health and safety legislation, risk assessments, evaluation-driven inspections and safeguarding) Japanese families, carers and wider community members are providing low key, informal and seemingly effective social care, compassion and support.

Across Japan, 5.4 million trained volunteers known as “dementia friends” are being efficiently managed by only four full time paid staff. Many of them are beginning to form task forces and are enjoying a free hand as they introduce an imaginative range of dementia care and support programmes which are friendly and flexible – and which can flourish in the climate of trust.

The approval of central government along with the laissez-faire approach of local authorities has enabled distinctive forms of grassroots care and support models to emerge and flourish. Such initiatives include the “open house” provision together with neighbourhood-watch style networking. The key feature of these – and other initiatives – is that they are local, based on voluntary support and are unencumbered by restrictive bureaucracy.

Created in early 2014, the latest example of the open house – “Suzu-no-ya” – scheme is run by volunteers who offer local residents with dementia and their carers the weekly opportunity to access all-day care including lunch and tea. Drop-in facilities also include informal advice and peer support for carers, backed up by a 24 hour phone carer support line. The open house concept embraces normalisation through familiar, relaxed and friendly surroundings. The scheme takes places in volunteers own houses, or in low cost, empty rented houses. There are 8.2m empty properties in Japan – 13.5% of the national housing stock.

In Kobe the “Sakura-chan” – a variation on the scheme – has privately rented residential dwellings to receive dementia patients and their carers for lunch, day-trips, dementia awareness raising and education. Carers are offered respite by peer carers along with a 24 hour help line. Situated next door to the Kobe local authority offices, lunch is always on offer to officials and care managers. Through informal but successful lobbying the start-up funding for 12 more open houses has been approved.

Neighbourhood-watch style networks specifically look out for the 10,300 “wanderers”; people with dementia who become lost and confused away from home. Led by volunteers, who act in partnership with the police, local businesses and charities, the network helps to steer wanderers safely home, and provides invaluable support and reassurance for carers and families. It is also an essential safety net for those living with dementia. 61.3% of Japan’s 1,741 local authorities embrace the scheme. Taken seriously, wanderer alert drills are practiced on a regular basis – and the scheme is officially endorsed.

This month, Japan hosted the global dementia legacy event – during which prime minister Shinzō Abe promised more dementia policies “to realise the creation of a dementia integrated community care system… an all party approach… reflecting the views of those with dementia and their carers”. Big policy promises – again. Perhaps the solutions can be found in the low cost, apparently high impact initiatives carried out with quiet dignity and little fanfare in Japan’s dementia friendly community.

Mayumi Hayashi is Leverhulme early career fellow at King’s College London

The international social work hub is funded by Cafcass. All content is editorially independent except for pieces labelled advertisement feature. Find out more here.

Why not join our social care community? Becoming a member of the Guardian Social Care Network means you get sent weekly email updates on policy and best practice in the sector, as well as exclusive offers. You can sign up – for free –online here.


2 thoughts on “Dementia care in Japan is being solved through volunteer schemes, not government

  1. Governments, institutions and charities never solve anything, they are too riddled with bureaucracy and obsession with money. In order to find solutions to anything you need passion and imagination.


Tell us what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s