Doctors Discuss Old Age at Osaka Health Care Meet

OSAKA — The reality of dealing with old age is one of the major challenges facing Japanese and American medical experts, doctors said at a health care conference held here Wednesday.

Robert Butler, a doctor at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, said that both countries must come to grips with the “dependency” problems associated with growing old.

“The issue of dependency is not going to go away and is a very real issue,” Butler commented during a symposium at the Made in U.S.A. Fair ’87 held at the International Exhibition Center Osaka.

“The great fear is having to be put in a nursing home,'” Butler said. “None of us wants to be financially [and] emotionally dependent. We want to maintain our independence as long as possible.”

But, he said, the high costs of American health care systems for senior citizens encourage such dependency. Many elderly Americans “have to make themselves poor to have access” to various kinds of aid.

Butler was one of the guest speakers at the symposium, which was held as part of fair activities along with a panel discussion and a question-answer period on the topic of elderly people in Japan and the United States.

Hiroshi Abe, a Japanese doctor, echoed many of Butler’s sentiments during the meeting, attended by about 200 guests.

“People long for a world where we will not die,” Abe said through an interpreter. He is chief director of the Osaka National Hospital.

"From now on, we have to improve the quality of life in this aged society,” he said. “We have to improve the quality toward the end of life. This is the challenge we are to face.”

Abe said that while the tight Japanese family structure helps to alleviate “dependency” on medical institutions, it nevertheless distances the elderly from proper medical

“This (family structure) is one of the advantages of Japanese society. At the same time, it’s a very difficult problem in terms of external services” such as hospital treatment, he said.

Abe predicted that 14 percent of the entire Japanese population will be age 65 or older by the year 1996.

He cited a Chinese proverb, “It rarely occurs to live long for 70 years.” But with the advances in geriatrics (elderly care), he said, many people now live to see their 88th birthday.

Butler, who was the first director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said that treating the elderly is a vital part of training in the geriatrics section of Mount Sinai Hospital.

“Geriatrics is mandated — there is no choice,” he said. “We do not permit our students the opportunity to escape old age.”

The physical and emotional pain of getting old is now being explored in the U.S. through programs focusing on stress reduction, decreasing alcohol consumption and paying closer attention to nutrition, Butler said.

Brian Covert