In super-aged Japan, the awareness of the dilemma facing caregivers of demented seniors first surfaced in 1972 with the release of the best-seller fiction, “The Twilight Years” written by Sawako Ariyoshi. In the story, the protagonist, Akiko from a typical middle class family naturally takes up the role as a sole caregiver for her widowed father-in-law with dementia after the death of her mother-in-law. Juggling caregiving while at the same time a working woman with a teenage son, the difficulties Akiko encountered resonates with many caregivers in similar situations. The book led to wide to widespread discussions and big repercussions on policies in elder care.
Although Japan has come a long way since the 1970s in eldercare support, negative consequences from the stress of eldercare is still felt by family caregivers. In April 2009, a former actress who quit her job to take care of her demented mother since 2006 was found to have killed herself in front of her father’s grave. Her suicide highlighted yet again the plight of a caregiver who is trapped with caring for her loved ones that were demented. A few months after the tragedy, her sister published a book about the former actress, she deeply regretted how she had neglected her sister’s problems as a caregiver which has led to her depression and subsequent suicide. The family tragedy woke the sister up, and she became active in advocating for wider awareness and care for caregivers. The lesson reminds us that we not only need caregivers, we also need supporters who keep an eye on the caregivers and tend to their needs.
Dr. Thang Leng Leng
National University of Singapore (NUS)
(Writer is a member of iCare Life Advisory Board)