September 21st – World Alzheimer’s Day & Respect for the Aged Day
September 21st is particularly special this year: World Alzheimer’s Day and the Japanese holiday “Respect for the Aged Day” coincide on this day.
Respect for the Aged Day
With 28.2 percent of Japan’s population aged 65 and older, the country has the world’s oldest population after Italy at 22.8 percent and Finland at 21.9 percent. In the United States, 16 percent of the population is 65 and older.
With more than 70,000 centenarians in Japan–a record high–it seems only fitting that they have a special day called “Respect for the Aged Day” dedicated to honoring their elders and celebrating longevity. Known as Keirō no Hi (敬老の日), it began in 1947 in the town of Nomatanimura in Hyogo Prefecture as Old Folks’ Day. It was declared a national holiday in 1966 and has since been celebrated annually every third Monday in September.
This year there is even more cause for celebration. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare recently reported that the average life expectancy rate in 2019 for men was 81.41 years and 87.45 years for women with an increase in 0.16 and 0.13 year respectively from 2018 (Hong Kong ranked first for both women and men at 88.13 and 82.34, respectively). In comparison, the average global life expectancy is 74.2 years for women and 69.8 years for men.
According to a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare official, the rise in life expectancy in Japan is attributed to an increase in the public’s awareness about health and medical issues.
Dementia in Japan
One of the health areas the Japanese government has been addressing is dementia. More than 4.6 million people in Japan are living with some form of dementia, with the total expected to soar to about 7.3 million people – or one in five Japanese aged 65 or over – by 2025. It has costly implications for care and social security.
Japan’s government has taken heed and been proactive. In 2015, the government implemented The New Orange Plan to “promote the development of dementia-friendly communities and to improve the living environments of people with dementia by enabling them to continue living in familiar spaces and environments as long as possible.” It included training dementia support doctors, establishing medical centers for dementia, and ensuring a supportive community.
And just last year, Japan’s government announced that it aimed to reduce dementia cases by 6 percent in those aged 70 and older over the next six years.
Studies have shown that up to 40 percent of dementia cases globally can be reduced or prevented with changes in lifestyle factors such as incorporating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and quitting smoking, among others.
Given these statistics, it is encouraging to hear that Japan’s government is moving in the right direction with their support for dementia preventative measures such as exercise programs in community centers. Some companies in Japan are also incorporating cognitive tests, like Savonix cognitive assessments, into their employee wellness programs so that they can test and monitor their cognition regularly, and take steps to prevent any symptoms of cognitive decline should they come to light.
World Alzheimer’s Month and Day
There are more than 50 million people globally living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, and according to the World Health Organization, that number is estimated to almost triple in 2050.
In the United States, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and by 2050, that number jumps to 14 million.
World Alzheimer’s Month in September, launched in 2012 by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), is an annual global campaign to raise awareness, educate, and challenge the stigma around dementia.
This year’s theme, “Let’s Talk About Dementia” encourages people to keep the dialogue ongoing, to seek out advice and information, and in doing so break down the fear and the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s and other dementia.
With “Respect for the Aged Day” in mind, we are reminded that a common misconception about Alzheimer’s and other dementia is that people generally believe they are a part of normal aging. A study showed that two out of three people believe this myth. There’s a good reason for that: advanced age is the condition’s biggest known risk factor.
Most individuals who have Alzheimer’s disease are 65 and older, and the risk for the disease doubles every five years after age 65. At age 85, almost one-third of people have Alzheimer’s.
But it’s clear that age isn’t the only factor, since some people live into their 80s, 90s, and even 100s without showing any signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
What You Can Do on September 21st
Follow Japan’s lead and honor your elders. In Japan, many visit their elderly parents, grandparents, and other relatives on “Respect for the Aged Day”. As it is not a national holiday in other countries (although we think it should!) and with the COVID-19 pandemic, a visit may be out of the question, instead, make a call, schedule a video chat, or perhaps drop them a line.
And to honor those living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, remember to test your cognitive health early and regularly. Encourage your friends and others to take one too.
Encourage your workplace to incorporate cognitive testing into its wellness program. After all, 78 percent of people are concerned about developing dementia at some point in their life. Testing early and regularly help maintain brain health–much like how blood pressure is monitored–so that any changes can be alerted before a serious problem develops.
Volunteer with an Alzheimer’s or dementia organization in your community, or take part in a clinical trial.
For those living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, challenges are encountered everyday and doesn’t just stop after Sept 21st. Consider taking an active part not just today but make a difference the whole year through.
Respect for the aged day. (n.d.). The Japan-America Society of Washington DC. Retrieved from http://www.jaswdc.org/japanese-holiday-respect-for-the-aged-day/
Alzheimer’s and dementia in Japan. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/jp/dementia-alzheimers-japan.asp
Countries with the oldest populations in the world. (2020, March 23). Population Reference Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.prb.org/countries-with-the-oldest-populations/
Global health observatory data. (n.d.). World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/life_tables/situation_trends_text/en
The New Orange Plan. (n.d.). Japan Health Policy NOW. Retrieved from http://japanhpn.org/en/1-2/
10 Facts on Dementia. (2019, September). World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/dementia/en/
Facts and Figures. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures
World Alzheimer’s Report 2019: Attitudes to Dementia. (2019). Alzheimer’s Disease International. Retrieved from https://www.alz.co.uk/research/WorldAlzheimerReport2019.pdf
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