How Japan takes care of its elderly (and what the GCC can learn from it)

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Owing to the tremendous advancements in science and modern medicine, average life expectancy has increased significantly over the past decades. According to the World Bank, Oman has seen a dramatic surge from 42.67 years in 1960 to 77.39 years in 2017. Similarly, Japan has registered a rise in life expectancy from 67.67 years to 84.10 years in the same time period.

Undoubtedly, this is a remarkable achievement for humanity in the 21st century. We must, however, take into consideration some other facts and figures to understand the full extent of the impact a higher life expectancy may have on society as a whole.

Along with an increase in life expectancy, we are also witnessing a drastic decline in birth rates across the globe. Oman has experienced a drop from 7.25 births per woman in 1960 to 2.92 in 2017, according to the World Bank, and Japan has seen a decline from 2.00 births per woman to 1.43 in the same time period.

The implications of an ageing population include a spike in healthcare costs, rising care-giving expenditure, a decline in the percentage of working individuals and subsequently lower rates of economic growth. In addition, there is a strain on social insurance programmes and pension systems that support the elderly.

Japan is currently the "oldest" country in the world. In 2019, approximately 28 per cent of Japan’s population was over the age of 65, with this demographic group forecasted to account for 40 per cent of the country’s population by 2060. However, the government and private sector have been working relentlessly for several decades now to overcome the effects this ageing population has on the economy.

In the year 2000, the Japanese government rolled out Long-Term Care Insurance (LTCI), a public programme that supports senior citizens aged 65 and above. The scheme is funded through charging a premium from citizens that are 40 years and above, who contribute a percentage that is determined by their income. LTCI provides senior citizens a range of benefits including institutional, home and community-based services that are delivered through a care manager.

Citizens registered with the programme can access services through care managers or service providers for a small co-payment fee. Municipalities are responsible for running the programmes in their respective districts, and engage with providers from both public and private sectors in doing so. At the same time, the federal government is in charge of stipulating the fees levied to ensure fair charges.

Of course, this system is not perfect and brings forth a series of challenges such as long waiting lists and a shortfall in the number of workers in the healthcare industry. However, it has taken the country forward in the right direction and continues to successfully deliver a myriad essential resources to elderly members of the community.

In addition, the government has also incentivised women, who either chose not to enter the workforce, or took breaks from their professional lives, to re-enter the workforce and contribute towards economic progress.

Organisations in the private sector have also offered opportunities to this ageing population and created suitable roles to integrate them into workplaces. For example, Lawson Inc, a convenience store chain in Tokyo has created a hybrid store that it has branded a "seniors’ salon". A section of the store is fitted out with a blood pressure monitor, and a team of social workers to support the elderly, and also to distribute leaflets and information on relevant healthcare services. The store also features a dedicated section of specialist products targeting the needs of senior citizens.

Furthermore, Lawson has also increased the maximum age limit for its franchisees and is offering part-time jobs for senior citizens, who can work limited hours as their health permits.

Given the decline in global birth rates and the advancements in health care, ageing populations are a concern for most nations. While Japan has set some excellent benchmarks for the rest of the world, the GCC region would do well to look inwards and see how we can utilise our individual strengths and provide creative solutions to reduce the strain of an ageing population on our regional economies.

Engaging senior citizens in roles tailored to their capabilities can add a new stream of talent for any organisation

Formal government programmes such as LTCI are undoubtedly very effective in delivering essential services and support to seniors. However, I believe the private sector has a wealth of opportunities that can be explored.

Engaging senior citizens in roles tailored to their capabilities can add a new stream of talent for any organisation. Products and services can be customised to suit the needs of the elderly, and designed to empower them to become active contributors to society.

Ageing populations are a pressing issue and we must follow Japan’s example and plan ahead for the upcoming decades. With the right resources and a clear blueprint, we will be able to care for our citizens across all ages while also maintaining steady economic growth.

Mohammed Alardhi is executive chairman of Investcorp and chairman of Bank Sohar, and was the longest-serving Omani head of the Royal Air Force of Oman