While most of us realize that we'll have to confront the issue of caring for aging parents and other family members sooner or later, when we actually come upon it, we're often ill prepared. But for those who have an affinity toward manga, it's possible to prepare for what's to come by reading comics that address the issue.
"Help Man!" by Riki Kusaka, was a pioneer in the genre of "elder care manga." It featured Momotaro Onda, a nursing care provider like no other who adopts unusual tactics to bring smiles to the elderly people he cares for. It began in 2003 as a running series in the Evening manga magazine, and was subsequently published as a 27-volume series of books. In 2011, the series won the Japan Cartoonists Association Award's Grand Prize. The series was revived in the Shukan Asahi weekly magazine as "Help Man!!" in late 2014, and continues to this day.
Kusaka did research primarily in Kochi Prefecture, where she lives, but also interviewed nursing care and health care providers across the country, and reflected her findings in her work. She addresses taboo topics such as gastrostomy tubes, which are said to prevent patients from eating orally ever again, as well as sex among the elderly, forcing readers to consider what "good" nursing care entails, while also conveying a vivid picture of the joys experienced by elder care providers and the exciting nature of the work itself.
"The manga portrays elder care not as a special world separate from the rest of society," says Shinya Maeda, the deputy editor in chief of the Shukan Asahi weekly. "Rather, it illustrates one-on-one personal relationships and the joys and heartaches of life through the lens of nursing care."
The genre of "comic essays" based on personal experience has expanded in recent years. "Pekorosu no haha ni aini iku" ("Pecoross' Mother and Her Days") by Yuichi Okano, which has also been made into a film, and "Kaachan to issho" (Together with mom) by Sugisaku are both about sons who are caring for their aging mothers. The two works have in common an underlying gentleness toward the respective mothers, in that among their portrayals of dementia symptoms and the daily challenges that the sons face, the maternal nature of the mothers come through via innocently bizarre dialogue and memories from times past.
If your objective is to learn about dementia itself, "Ninchisho no aru hitotte naze yoku okorarerundaro?" (Why do people with dementia get chewed out so much?) by Natsu Kitagawa might be a good option. The author has experience as a nursing care provider, and strikes an exquisite balance between her portrayals of the hardships faced by care providers and those faced by people with dementia.
Readers might want to choose to read manga that feature characters with similar personalities to themselves for a vicarious experience of what is to come in the future. For example, "Oya no kaigo, dosuru? Kaigo no kokoro hen" (What are you going to do about elder care for your parents? A guide to attitudes toward elder care) features a woman who has brought her aging mother to a big city to care for her, a male nursing care provider, a certified caretaker, and a woman who is a "double caretaker" as she cares for both her mother and her children. "91-sai dokuzetsu joshi, kenka o utte ikitemasu" (A 91-year-old girl picks fights through life) by Vanilla Fudge is a humorous take on the relationship between a woman and her aging mother-in-law.
Meanwhile, Masayo Takeshi's "Manga ohitorisama no enkyori kaigo kemonomichi: haha to musume no batoru aruaru" (Manga on the bootleg trail through single-person long-distance nursing care: the most common battles between mother and daughter) is a bit more practical than the others. It portrays what a daughter who lives 140 kilometers away from her mother, with whom she had never really gotten along, faces through the experience of providing nursing care to her mother. It includes hints for those who are going to provide long-distance elder care, as well as explanations on the nursing care insurance system and subsidies for health care costs. Such systems are liable to undergo change, but having just a general idea of the assistance available could prove helpful when readers actually confront similar situations.
"Manga fulfills the role of opening up elderly care, which takes place in closed spaces such as households and facilities, to the outside world," says Mariko Koizumi, an associate professor at Kyoto Seika University's Faculty of Manga. "They allow readers to share their struggles with the authors or characters, and can serve as an emotional crutch for care providers."