Japan as the front-runner of super-aged societies: Perspectives from medicine and medical care in Japan

Hidenori Arai, Yasuyoshi Ouchi, Kenji Toba, Tamao Endo, Kentaro Shimokado, Kazuo Tsubota, Seiichi Matsuo, Hidezo Mori, Wako Yumura, Masayuki Yokode, Hiromi Rakugi, Shinichi Ohshima

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

250 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The demographic structure of a country changes dramatically with increasing trends toward general population aging and declining birth rates. In Japan, the percentage of the elderly population (aged ≥65 years) reached 25% in 2013; it is expected to exceed 30% in 2025 and reach 39.9% in 2060. The national total population has been decreasing steadily since its peak reached in 2008, and it is expected to fall to the order of 80 million in 2060. Of the total population, those aged ≥75 years accounted for 12.3% as of 2013, and this is expected to reach 26.9% in 2060. As the demographic structure changes, the disease structure changes, and therefore the medical care demand changes. To accommodate the medical care demand changes, it is necessary to secure a system for providing medical care. Japan has thus far attained remarkable achievements in medical care, seeking a better prognosis for survival; however, its medical care demand is anticipated to change both qualitatively and quantitatively. As diseases in the elderly, particularly in the old-old population, are often intractable, conventional medical care must be upgraded to one suitable for an aged society. What is required to this end is a shift from "cure-seeking medical care" focusing on disease treatment on an organ-specific basis to "cure and support-seeking medical care" with treatments reprioritized to maximize the quality of life (QOL) for the patient, or a change from "hospital-centered medical care" to "community-oriented medical care" in correlation with nursing care and welfare. Current situation and problems: (1) Necessity for a paradigm shift to "cure-and-support seeking medical care" In addition to the process of aging with functional deterioration of multiple organs, the elderly often suffer from systemically disordering diseases, such as lifestyle-related diseases, as well as geriatric syndrome and daily activity dysfunction; therefore, integrated and comprehensive medical care is required. In addition, with regard to diseases in the elderly, not only their acute stage, but also their chronic and intermediate stages must be emphasized in their treatment. Aiming to achieve a complete cure of disease by exploring the cause and implementing radical treatment, the conventional medical care model is difficult to apply to the medical care of the elderly; medical care suitable for the elderly is required. (2) Spread of home-based care and the necessity for human resources development Many elderly people want to continue to live in their house and their community where they have been living for a long time, even with disease. There are increasing needs for QOL-emphasizing home-based care for patients in the intermediate stage after completion of acute stage treatment, or for end-of-life care. Hence, there is a demand for a shift to "community-oriented medical care" for providing comprehensive care supported with medical and nursing resources available in the community. As the percentage of the elderly population (aged ≥65 years) and the availability of medical care resources vary considerably among different regions, it is important that specialists in the fields of public health, medical care, nursing care, and welfare work on establishing a collaborative system suitable for the local characteristics of each region by making the best use of their own specialties. (3) Necessity for establishing a department of gerontology or geriatric medicine at each medical school In line with the increasing number of elderly people, it is necessary to upgrade the systems for educating and nurturing physicians engaged in healthcare and nursing care for the elderly. It is also necessary to develop the organic cooperation with other medical and nursing care professionals, such as registered nurses and care workers. At present, just approximately 30% of medical schools in Japan have a department specializing in medical care for the elderly and relevant medical education; there is an urgent need to improve the situation, as the majority of universities do not provide any such education. (4) Necessity for establishing a medical center for promoting medical care provider collaboration, multidisciplinary training and a means to increase public awareness In the medical care for the elderly, comprehensive care must be provided from the viewpoints of both healthcare and nursing care; to improve the quality of such care services, multidisciplinary collaboration and team-based medicine are indispensable. Therefore, physicians, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, dieticians, care managers, and other health care professionals who have thorough knowledge about medical care for the elderly are of utmost necessity. In reality, however, the collaboration of these health care professionals is unsatisfactory, and the degree of understanding of team-based medicine by each medical professional is low. Therefore, as in the case of the establishment of cancer centers within individual regions to promote medical care for cancer, there is a demand to nurture professionals engaged in medical care for the elderly, and to establish a core facility for the promotion of multidisciplinary collaboration and team-based medicine for each region. (5) Do the people understand the paradigm shift? Currently, not only healthcare professionals, but also many citizens seek "cure-seeking medical care" aiming at a restoration of organ function; however, surveys of the elderly often show that they want to restore independent daily activity, rather than to achieve a "cure." In contrast, in the actual medical care setting, contradictory situations prevail in which the public awareness of the shift to "cure-and-support seeking medical care" is unsatisfactory, including the fact that the majority of recipients of tertiary emergency care are elderly patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)673-687
Number of pages15
JournalGeriatrics and Gerontology International
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Jun 1


  • Clinical medicine
  • Geriatric medicine
  • Home-based care
  • Multidisciplinary
  • Quality of life
  • Super-aged society

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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