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Group Homes Offer Attractive Option for the Elderly

April 19, 2000

More than five years have passed since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck Kobe and surrounding areas in January 1995. Today, the region is witnessing the rise of a unique type of communal housing that brings elderly and handicapped people together under one roof. The model for these "group homes" is a temporary complex with 24-hour care built right after the quake as an emergency measure, which proved so effective in alleviating the sense of isolation of the residents that it triggered a wave of construction plans throughout the area.

Best of Both Worlds
The first permanent group home to be built was in the city of Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. Completed in September 1998, the complex has 600 square meters (6,500 square feet) of floor space and houses 12 people between the ages of 66 and 89, all with health problems like Parkinson's disease and heart ailments that make it difficult for them to live on their own. Six health workers take turns providing round-the-clock care. The residents enjoy an average 19.3 square meters (208 square feet) of private living space, double that stipulated for "special care homes" for bedridden elderly residents. Located near city hall, the home provides room to be alone as well as opportunities to get together with other residents and mix with the community.

The new group homes take many forms. One complex currently under construction in Kobe has four floors above ground as well as a basement. It houses a group home for elderly residents on the third and fourth floors and a special care home with nursing care on the first two floors. All residents have a private room with a toilet and sink and share kitchen, dining room, and bathing facilities.

Healthier than at Admission
Before the Kobe quake emergency housing in Japan did not offer any special services for the elderly or handicapped, and these residents often suffered from feelings of isolation. Following the quake, however, 10 temporary facilities were built in Hyogo Prefecture with round-the-clock care. Specialists visiting these facilities reported being struck by the cheerfulness of the residents, and the residents themselves expressed a strong desire to remain where they were, rather than move to publicly run apartments.

Unfortunately, the temporary facilities were not built to last, and local governments began asking residents to move into permanent housing. But the residents like these facilities so much that they asked authorities that new communal homes offering 24-hour care be built for them. Some launched a drive to build such homes on their own.

Sensing a real need, both public- and private-sector groups have now begun constructing apartments with care services in Ashiya, Amagasaki, and Kobe. In Kobe, a home with 16 private rooms was completed at the end of March, and another with 12 rooms is scheduled for completion in April. Many of these facilities are run by nonprofit organizations, such as those operating special care homes for the aged. The monthly fee paid by the residents in homes built with government subsidies is around 50,000 yen (475 U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar).

These communal apartments for the handicapped and the elderly are the first of their kind in the world, and they are being eyed as an attractive living option in Japan's graying society.

Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.