Revolutionary Caregiving Model Inspired by Japanese Prefecture
July 3, 2013 | Found In: Aging
We are living through an aging revolution. The last fifty years have seen major advances in modern medicine and nutrition knowledge which have not only extended the number of years we can expect to live, but the quality of life we can hope to enjoy. By 2031, every baby boomer will be over the age of 65 (with the oldest boomers aged 88); this will also mark a time when seniors will comprise one quarter of the North American population! But it is not simply that people are living longer, people’s standards and expectations for aging are also seeing a dramatic shift. While retirement age used to be about stopping, now it is about going.
Being in the business of providing in-home care to aging adults, we found early on that aging adults and their loved ones were hungry for knowledge on what factors enable some adults to live longer, happier and healthier lives than others. While there is no single explanation for why some people live longer and more productive years than others, there is one place on earth that has been called the ideal place for aging: Okinawa.
Okinawa is an island in the archipelago region of Japan in the East China Sea where the average life expectancy is just over 82 years (almost 78 for men and 86 for women). This is over a year longer than in the rest of Japan and almost 4.5 years longer than the average U.S. lifespan. Okinawans are 3 to 7 times more likely to live to 100 than Americans. As impressive as the long lives lived by the people of Okinawa are, what is of equal, if not more interest, is the quality of health most elders of Okinawa enjoy. Heart disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes, and other conditions considered par for the course in older people in North America are rare in Okinawan elders. Studies have found that such genetic factors only account for about one third of the Okinawan elders’ extraordinary health and long life spans. Two-thirds of this enviable good health appears to be the result of diet, exercise, low stress levels, familial and community ties, social practices and spiritual beliefs. Each of these elements, just like the disorders and diseases they help prevent, feed on one another in a symbiotic relationship.
Home Care Assistance has developed a revolutionary and proprietary approach to senior care based on these centenarian studies called The Balanced Care Method™. Excellent physical health, mental awareness and inner calm are common among the studied elders. The Method seeks to capture some of the lifestyle factors that go towards creating such long-lived and healthy people. Its philosophy can be summed up in two words: moderation and variety.
A steady diet of mackerel, tempeh, seaweed, sweet potatoes, and green tea is probably not realistic for most Westerners. Neither is daily tai chi practice or walks between villages, yet there are many ways to implement the principles of the Okinawan lifestyle within a Western framework. We have distilled some of the main lifestyle components below for you:
¨ Dietary Factors: A major factor that results in the extraordinary health enjoyed by Okinawan elders is their distinct diet. It is plant-based, low in protein and high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoids. It includes low to moderate alcohol intake, plenty of fruits and vegetables and very low levels of saturated fat and sodium.
¨ Exercise Factors: Okinawan elders have life-long routines of moderate exercise and physical activity. They walk most places they go, keep up daily tasks like housework, gardening and working well past the age of “retirement” in North America and practice the soft martial art of tai chi. They report that these physical activities also give them a sense of calmness and psychological wholeness.
¨ Sense of Purpose and Active Social Ties: The remarkable life spans and health in Okinawa can be further explained by the extent to which their lives are also low stress, socially rich, purposeful and spiritual. Their inner calm and desire to remain productive into older age offers Okinawan elders substantial stress relief, a sense of social connection and purpose and a respected, important role in their community.
The Balanced Care Method™ is a way of viewing aging as a rich and meaningful part of life. Each element – fostering independence, encouraging the maintenance of social ties, remaining active – supports and reinforces the others. The best lesson we can learn from the elders of Okinawa is to embrace and celebrate aging and approach it with a sense of balance and reverence. As we predict in our aging book, Happy to 102, expect to see bigger birthday cakes or thinner candles in the decades ahead!
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