Tsunami Takes Heavier Toll On Japan’s Elderly
March 17, 2011 | By Kim Walker
Tragically, but not surprisingly, stories are already emerging from Japan of the disproportionate toll the disaster has had on the elderly population.
The elderly fled their home on foot as the warning sirens blared. But they could not keep up with their neighbors and fell behind as the tsunami rushed in. Many, unable to flee, perished.
Even those fortunate enough to escape the wrath of the waves were not spared. Survivors lost their daily medicines. Hospitals lost power and water. Sometimes, the consequences have been fatal.
Japan’s relatively large elderly population presents a particular challenge for rescue and relief in what is already a disaster of epic proportions.
In this country where where nearly one in four people is over 65, there is an even greater concentration of elderly in Japan’s rural areas as many of the small coastal towns hit hardest by the tsunami have seen an exodus of young people moving to cities for work.
The tsunami killed 47 of the 113 residents at a retirement home in the city of Kesennuma. Those who could escaped to the second floor. But many got wet, and 11 more died over the next two days because of the cold.
As the people of Japan recovers from this disaster, and recover they will, more thought will need to be given to safety measures that will consider the unique needs of the elderly. Lessons that an ageing world must learn from this devastating lesson.