Senior Power: Japan Elders News, continued

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Saturday March 26, 2011 - 03:28:00 PM

Here is information from Rikuzentakata, which is part of Iwate Prefecture, one of 6 that constitute Tōhoku ("northeast")region. It is abstracted from "Hope for missing fades in Japan; elderly hard-hit" (Associated Press Online, March 17, 2011): 

The elderly couple 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. Nearly a week later, 71-year-old Taeko Kanno and her husband are still missing. "I think there is no hope," said Katsuo Maiya, Kanno's brother-in-law. "I can't find them. The only thing I can do is wait until the military collects their bodies." 

As collecting bodies increasingly becomes the focus of crews working along Japan's devastated tsunami coast, it's clear that Friday's twin disasters feared to have killed more than 10,000 have taken their heaviest toll on the elderly in this rapidly aging nation. 

Many, unable to flee, perished. Survivors lost their daily medicines. Hospitals lost power and water. Sometimes, the consequences have been fatal. Fourteen older patients died after they were evacuated to a temporary shelter in a school gym, because their hospital was in the evacuation zone near the Fukushima nuclear plant. Workers are scrambling to prevent a meltdown after the disaster knocked out the reactors' cooling systems. 

Two of the patients died in transit Monday and 12 more at the gym, said Chuei Inamura, a Fukushima government official. It took until Thursday to get all the remaining patients into other hospitals. "We feel very helpless and very sorry for them," Inamura said. "The condition at the gymnasium was horrible. No running water, no medicine and very, very little food. We simply did not have the means to provide good care." 

Some international rescue teams ended their efforts, acknowledging there was little prospect left of finding missing people still alive. "We have no more tasks," said Pete Stevenson, a firefighter heading Britain's 70-strong team. "The Japanese government have told us they are now moving from search and rescue to the recovery phase." He insisted their departure wasn't related to any fears of radiation from a troubled nuclear plant about 90 miles (150 kilometers) south. 

Japan's relatively large elderly population presents a particular challenge for rescue and relief in what is already a disaster of epic proportions. About 23 percent of Japan's 127 million people are age 65 or over, nearly double the proportion in the United States. 

Japan's rural areas have been in decline for years, and many of the small coastal towns hit hardest by the tsunami had seen an exodus of young people moving to cities for work. Kanno, the woman who couldn't keep up with her neighbors, comes from one such town— Rikuzentakata, a port city that was home to 20,000 before the disaster. 

[NOTE: Google Crisis Response provides “Resources related to the 2011 Japan Crisis.” Go to or simply keyboard in Google Crisis Response.] 

"For seniors in Japan's tsunami zone, a full circle of hardship," by Marck Magnier (Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2011). LAT requires free registration before providing articles. Japanese and English: 

Many of the elderly grew up during WWII and are facing large-scale tragedy once again. And yet there are signs of strength. Many of the elderly leave shelters during the day to clean and search for precious items, returning to the evacuation centers at night. Most houses that are still standing have a pile of possessions out front, seen in Japan not as an invitation to steal but a pragmatic way to start digging out. Bulldozers have pushed debris into the side streets to clear the main avenues, leaving piles up to 10 feet high. Between them, in the ruins, elderly women can be seen pushing shopping carts with a few possessions. 

"Japan should not use pension funds for disaster relief - minister," by Chris Panteli (Global Pensions [London], March 22, 2011):  

Japan's Economy Minister Kaoru Yosano said that the country should not resort to pensions to fund disaster relief efforts. "It is undesirable to use pension funds as a source of money for disaster relief, as it would destroy the basic principle of a pension fund," Yosano told reporters after a cabinet meeting. Japan’s debt is set to reach 210% of gross domestic product in 2012, representing the highest level of debt among countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 

"Elderly Refugees Overwhelm Japan," by Daisuke Wakabayashi, Toko Sekiguchi, and Eric Bellman (Wall Street Journal, March 19-20, 2011, P. A1). Full Text of the WSJ is available, for a fee, at:; however, full text of this article may be available via GoogleNews ( by searching on the title or author. Full text is also available (usually on a one day delay) via the ProQuest Newspaper Library, for the Eastern Edition only.  

"We're not equipped to handle dementia," Mr. Harada said. "Ask them to take her to the proper facilities. We just don't have the resources for such care." Refugees from Minamisoma, a coastal town in Fukushima evacuated because of nuclear-radiation fears, say many residents chose to stay to take care of their aging parents. 

"Sick and elderly abandoned in fallout zone," by Ben Doherty (Morning Herald [Sydney, New South Wales, Australia], March. 19, 2011):  

As Japan’s big southern cities swell with thousands of nuclear refugees fleeing the fallout zone from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the human cost to the country is being uncovered. 




Q & A 



Whatever became of the Delaney sisters? 


Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years was a 1993 bestselling book for sisters Sarah “Sadie” Louise Delany (1889-1999) and Dr. Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany, DDS (1891-1995). (Whoopi Goldberg recorded it.) They never married and lived together until Bessie’s death. “Turning one hundred was the worst birthday of my life. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Turning 101 was not so bad. Once you're past that century mark, it's just not as shocking.” On my own at 107: Reflections on Life Without Bessie, by Sarah Delany with Amy Hill Hearth and illustrated by Brian M. Kotzky was published in LARGE PRINT in 1997.  


What can you tell me about the Comfort Keepers? 


I have no information beyond what is posted on their Internet web sites. The “umbrella” appears to be “CK Franchising, Inc. An international network of independently owned and operated offices” providing “Interactive Caregiving”, products and services at varying rates. Each Comfort Keepers office is independently owned and operated. 

I emailed a question that was apparently too delving – no response. The following is from their websites: “Comfort Keepers senior care franchise is a rare business opportunity. This leading national brand providing in-home senior care combines exceptional growth potential with both the financial and feel-good rewards unique to a business dedicated to caring for others. Comfort Keepers does have a mandatory requirement that all prospects have at least $50,000 in capital, (i.e.: Cash, Home Equity Loan, Investments, SBA), and a net worth of at least $200,000.” 


What are ADLs and IADLs?  


These appear to be jargon acronyms. ADLs are Activities of Daily Living, described by Comfort Keepers as basic tasks essential for day-to-day functioning (e.g. bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, mobility and toileting.) IADLs are Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, less basic than the traditional ADLs (e.g. shopping, paying bills, cleaning, doing the laundry and meal preparation.)  


Can you explain the donut hole? 


The Medicare Part D coverage gap — informally known as the Medicare donut hole — is the difference of the initial coverage limit and the catastrophic coverage threshold, as described in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program administered by the United States federal government. After a Medicare beneficiary surpasses the prescription drug coverage limit, the Medicare beneficiary is financially responsible for the entire cost of prescription drugs until the expense reaches the catastrophic coverage threshold. 


We are fortunate to live in a Section 8 senior housing project. But neighbors have been burgled and treated like they are either responsible or mistaken, required to complete a form and questioned by a police officer. How does one keep a little bit of cash and important documents on hand safely? 


I sense that you are also wondering how it’s possible to live in such an environment and retain self-respect! Alas I have little information that would be responsive. Furthermore, there is no ombudsman provision for senior rent-subsidized housing. (See Older Americans Act, especially Title VII). I can only suggest:  

  • post on the apartment door a DO NOT ENTER EXCEPT IN EMERGENCY sign;
  • never loan key or leave door unlocked;
  • purchase a lockbox at a hardware store;
  • attend the Alameda County Library-sponsored Program for Older Adults on Consumer Fraud: Scams Targeting Seniors, Tips for Protection and Prevention, a free workshop by Legal Assistance for Seniors (LAS). Library Senior Services (510) 745-1491. At Albany Library, May 5.

Advice and pamphlets about making adjustments to avoid falling are about indoor falls. Got any tips for preventing falls while outdoors? 


I suppose the emphasis on preventing indoor falls is logical, albeit depressing, inasmuch as the elderly are often associated with being indoors. Avoiding outdoor falls is, however, extremely important-- for sure, cement is harder than carpet, and once an elder falls outdoors, s/he is likely to avoid going outdoors. 

  • Use your pc to Google AVOID FALLS ELDERLY.
  • When walking alone outdoors, use a cane. (Your cane should be adjusted to your needs by a physical therapist; tape your email address and or phone # to it.)
  • Watch the sidewalk but resist bending forward! Alas, this means that unless you pause, you’re likely to miss seeing pleasurable things like the camellias blooming.
  • Wear tinted lenses; wear prescription lenses if you have them.
  • Wear hat with brim or a visor/baseball cap.
  • Walk in pairs. (Another easier said than done.)

I heard there are Three Big Lies connected to cutting Social Security benefits, either directly or by raising the retirement age, that are being used to justify benefit cuts.  


  1. "We must cut Social Security to reduce the federal deficit." False. Social Security does not contribute to the budget deficit. It is a separate program funded by payroll taxes.
  1. "We must cut benefits to keep Social Security from going broke." False. Even if no changes are made to the system, it will be able to pay 100% of benefits through at least 2037. Full solvency can be achieved for the next 75 years and beyond by scrapping the current $106,800 cap on wages subject to the payroll tax.
  1. "We must raise the retirement age because people are living longer." False. In fact, women's life expectancy has stagnated over the past 30 years. (Women rely on Social Security more than men.)


Special events: 

Saturday, April 9, 2011: The Friends of Albany Seniors will hold its annual White Elephant & Bake Sale. Albany Senior Center, 846 Masonic Ave. Bargains in handcrafted items, jewelry, books, toys, houseware and baked goods. All proceeds go to support the Albany Senior Center. Donated goods (except large furniture, electronics and clothing) are welcome; contact Zion Lee, Program Coordinator, Albany Senior Center, 510-524-9131. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011. 58th Annual Noon Concert Series - Hertz Concert Hall, 12:15-1:00pm, free admission. Department of Music, University of California, Berkeley. (510) 642 – 4864. PIANO TRIO Anna Presler, violin; Leighton Fong, cello; Karen Rosenak, piano. Bright Sheng: Four Movements for Piano Trio (1990). Ravel: Trio (1914). 

Mondays & Thursdays Weekly - Older Adult Kosher Lunch: 12:00-1:00pm. Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, 1414 Walnut Street, Berkeley, 94709.5811 Racine Street, Oakland 94609. The new caterer of JCC’s Kosher Lunch meals is Janice Mac Millan of Kosher Craft.  

Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at, no email attachments or phone calls.