What Japan Can Teach America About Family Caregiving

One after another, three young social work students stood up and tearfully shared their experiences of growing up caring for grandparents with dementia in their family homes. Later, a middle-aged physician talked with pride about frequently visiting his still-healthy, 94-year-old mother to support her choice to live in her own apartment. These were prime examples of “filial piety”—the millennia-old, ingrained tradition of devotion to elders—that I had anticipated.

But there was much I didn’t expect. A social work faculty member ruefully described the growing phenomenon of adult children who had moved to the big city for jobs and no longer wanted responsibility for their aging parents, alone and isolated in their home villages. Such careerists had divorced themselves morally and emotionally from their parents, leaving it up to local government to tend to them.

These were the sharply contrasting attitudes about eldercare that my wife, Julia L. Mayer, Psy.D., and I heard during a recent visit to Japan. We had been invited to give lectures on aging and resilience at the Kanagawa and Tokyo campuses of Tokai University as part of a year-long celebration to mark the founding of the university’s Faculty of Health Management, an ambitious, interprofessional program of professors, researchers and clinicians from a broad array of medical and social sciences. The divergent sentiments we heard at our lectures offered lessons—and perhaps a glimpse into the future—for America’ aging families and caregivers.

– Huffington Post