Japan’s lonely seniors are the tip of a global epidemic of senior loneliness

Almost 1 in 5 women in Japanese prisons is a senior. Their crimes are usually minor—9 in 10 senior women who’ve been convicted were found guilty of shoplifting.

Japan has about 50 to 60 thousand people in prison.

The number of Japanese seniors living alone increased by 600 percent between 1985 and 2015 to almost 6 million. Half of the seniors caught shoplifting reported living alone, the government discovered last year, and 40 percent of them said they either don’t have family or rarely speak to them.

Over ten thousand of almost 6 million seniors living alone prefer prison to living alone outside. There are over 8 million lonely seniors in the United States.

“They may have a house. They may have a family. But that doesn’t mean they have a place they feel at home,” Yumi Muranaka, head warden of Iwakuni Women’s Prison, told Bloomberg.

In 2016, Japan’s parliament passed a law aiming to ensure that recidivist seniors get support from the country’s welfare and social-service systems. Since then, prosecutor’s offices and prisons have worked closely with government agencies to get senior offenders the assistance they need. But the problems that lead these women to seek the relative comfort of jail lie beyond the system’s reach.

Loneliness is bad for your health

Getting old in America isn’t easy for many people. Things like the death of one’s spouse, your family getting dispersed across a broad geography, people’s friends passing away — even folks who are very social or connected gradually begin to lose those connections with others in their life. Oftentimes that leads to a decline in people’s self-care, so they’re not taking medicines regularly, not exercising with any regularity, not participating in social activities, and health outcomes suffer. Loneliness is both a result of medical problems and a cause of medical problems.

A 2015 study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

CareMore’s “Be in the Circle: Be Connected” program is the brainchild of Dr. Sachin Jain, the Anthems president.

In 2017, CareMore, a unit of Anthem Insurance that offers coverage and health care to more than 100,000 members across seven states, is introducing a campaign to help some of the US population’s most socially isolated people: seniors.

They have redesigned their care centers, so the waiting areas will be repositioned as social spaces where seniors can drop in and just be there.

They have a senior-focused gyms called “Nifty After Fifty” at most of our care centers, and a lot of the programs there are focused on creating social connection for seniors, as well as helping them with exercise.

EngAGE provides life-enhancing onsite programs in affordable senior and multigenerational housing — classes, workshops and events in the arts, well-being, lifelong learning, community building and intergenerational connectivity — in southern California, Oregon and Minnesota. They simply change the idea of aging by transforming retirement communities into vibrant centers of life and social connection.

EngAGE tries to model retirement like going to College. They are both new phases of life, where we can utilize our free time to better ourselves, continue to grow and become something new each day if we choose.

14 steps for reducing isolation from A Place for Mom

Here are 14 anti-isolation steps.

1. Make Transportation Available
2. Promote Sense of Purpose
3. Encourage Religious Seniors to Maintain Attendance at their Places of Worship
4. Give a Senior Something to Take Care Of
5. Encourage a Positive Body Image
6. Encourage Hearing and Vision Tests
7. Make Adaptive Technologies Available
8. Notify Neighbors
9. Encourage Dining with Others
10. Address Incontinence Issues
11. Give a Hug
12. Give Extra Support to Seniors Who Have Recently Lost a Spouse
13. Identification of Socially Isolated Seniors by Public Health Professionals
14. Help Out a Caregiver in Your Life