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Iwao Waga

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Creating a society that won't fall to isolation

Iwao Waga

COI Tohoku Site Leader

Project Leader (PL)

NEC Solution Innovators, Ltd.

Professional Fellow

Japan will be a major nation for living alone in 2030

Japan will be a major nation for living alone in 2030

This story is something that happened to my mother-in-law. One morning, she woke up to a sharp pain in her chest. It was a heart attack. Unfortunately, she lived alone, so she couldn't call anyone for help. To get to the hospital, she had to struggle through the pain to call an ambulance, and then drag herself to the elevator of her apartment because the ambulance's stretcher couldn't fit through the doors. Luckily, there was a doctor on duty at the hospital to perform a catheterization, so she came through the ordeal with her life intact. Because of this incident, I and my mother-in-law truly felt the fears and difficulties associated with living alone. As it currently stands, our society is set to have 2.43 million men and 4.87 million women over the age of 65 living alone as of 2030. Health issues for these people living independently are certain to only increase in seriousness as time goes on.

Japan will be a major nation for living alone in 2030

Damage to health caused by isolation

According to the analytical results of a large-scale survey reported by the American Psychological Association, "isolation" is an even more serious health risk factor than obesity or smoking. People who feel isolated constantly are 64% more likely to suffer from dementia than those who don't. They also have a tendency toward heart disease, strokes, and high blood pressure, increasing their rate of mortality to 26%. This damage to health is equivalent to obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes. Research and surveys into isolation are advancing in the UK, and damages to health and society are expected to rise as high as 32 billion GBP (approx. 4.9 trillion JPY), with the position of Minister for Loneliness newly established to handle the issue. Tracey Crouch was selected to be the first ever Minister for Loneliness, and she has started work on measures to combat isolation that utilize innovations. In Japan, however, despite the rapid increase in people living alone, there is still no clear definition for "kodokushi" (dying alone), no statistical data on the issue, and no estimation data on damages to society that have been reported.

Backcasting

We are developing the "Daily Health Screening" project, which uses unobtrusive sensing to realize support across multiple generations which exceeds the boundaries of the traditional family concept by assessing the lifestyle and health conditions of you and your family whenever and wherever, and performing activities to implement business models in society. In 2017, we made another attempt at backcasting, and had serious discussions about how individuals in advanced nation societies where the majority of people live alone as the result of a low birth rate and an advanced aging population could continue to monitor their health and maintain relationships with their families and surrounding people so that they can live happily. The result was the creation of a warm future scenario based on the axes of "self-help", "mutual-assistance," "optimization for individuals," and "optimization for society." To be specific, we are picturing the following "society of self-help and mutual-assistance."

  • Forecasting and managing your own health conditions, thereby reducing possible concerns about the future
  • Playing an active part in society, regardless of declining brain functions, social skills, and physical capabilities that come from age
  • Enabling multiple generations to connect, interact, and support each other beyond the boundaries of the traditional family concept

These things are a necessity for creating a future where individuals can remain independent while also feeling connected to others, enjoying a healthy life and maintaining social interactions until 100 years old.

Measure - Recognize - Actuate

Measure - Recognize - Actuate

To actualize the "society of self-help and mutual-assistance," COI Tohoku Site redefined our research project around three elements: "Measure" (assessing, timing, and weighing), "Recognize" (ascertaining, knowing, and comprehending), and "Actuate" (to impart self-help and provide mutual-assistance), and made a new configuration with the objective of "reinventing how we live," especially "reinventing how we cooperate." In addition, a large number of sensors and devices have been developed until now, and their further development has been prioritized based on this objective. Through short-term selection and strengthening our focus, we are following our scenario for social implementation to advance our plan as it is applied to regional substantive fields.

Measure - Recognize - Actuate

B-U-B (Business-University-Business) and Innovation Platform

Through these activities, all new endeavors are coming to fruition one by one, and we have changed direction onto a path of new advances working toward sustainable innovation platforms. With the participation of corporations from differing industries that provide a variety of services, and Business-University-Business (B-U-B), which uses universities as a hub, the creation of new services is also accelerating. And in addition to working on research and development effectively and efficiently, planning for marketing strategies required to actualize and commercialize visions of the future of society; surveys on patents, market trends, and technological trends; and activities for accelerating innovation are being strengthened mainly by university research administrators (URA). Through the synergy of these activities, COI Tohoku Site is working toward constructing a sustainable ecosystem for creating innovation.

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