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Elderly quake survivors who lost homes struggle to live independently: study

A study by researchers has found that the loss of houses by elderly survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake was the damage that most negatively impacted their ability to live independently, it has been learned.

    The effect of losing a house on the elderly survivors was likened by the survivors to aging 5 or 6 years. The team explains, "Support for elderly survivors who moved into temporary housing may have led to them no longer going shopping or doing things they used to do for themselves, lowering their (independent) ability."

    The research team was from the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JAGES), which conducts research related to the elderly and whose principle members include Chiba University's Center for Preventive Medical Sciences. The researchers looked at 3,547 men and women aged 65 and older who live in Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture, which experienced heavy damage related to the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011. The researchers compared the subjects' situations in August 2010, before the disaster, and in October 2013, after it.

    The researchers asked the subjects questions like, "Can you leave your home on your own?," "Can you prepare your meals yourself?" and "Can you fill out documents yourself?" and also asked them about the damage they suffered from the disaster. They examined the relationship between the damage they received and changes to the degree of independence they had in their lives.

    They determined that the form of damage from the disaster that most led to lowered independence in the elderly survivors was the total loss of a house, followed by being unable to see their doctors soon after the disaster and losing their jobs. Lack of independence included the inability to do daily activities -- like going shopping or cooking food -- themselves.

    The earthquake disaster also led to 26 percent of the surveyed people losing a family member and 15 percent of them losing a friend, but no correlation was seen between these issues and lowered independence.

    Toru Tsuboya, assistant professor at Tohoku University, says, "The same thing is said about elderly care, but rather than doing everything for (disaster survivors), offering support that draws out their abilities is necessary. The inability of survivors to see their doctors also had a big impact, so we need a system that will offer support until the medical system in an area has recovered, not just give support in the immediate disaster aftermath."

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