By Kim Kyung-hoon
When I covered Fukushima’s nuclear crisis in March, the first radiation evacuees who I encountered were elderly people who had fled a nursing home which was located near the tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant which was leaking nuclear radiation.
On that night, most of the elderly who could not move well due to old age spent a cold night on a temporary shelter’s hard floor.
Their scraggly bodies, the nasty smell from those who were not able to relieve themselves, and faraway looks of the those who had dementia have been impressed onto my memory, one scene out of many from this tragedy which I will never forget.
In Japan, the most rapidly aging country in the world, the elderly have been more vulnerable to the disaster than any others. According to statistics provided by the Japanese government, over half of the 27,500 dead or missing tsunami victims have been identified as older than 60. In addition, a recent survey conducted by a local newspaper showed an increased death rate among the elderly who had been evacuated from nursing homes near the tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima. The paper reported that caretakers and experts said many of the elderly residents’ deaths resulted from a decline in strength caused by the move far from their nursing homes and it was likely that they could not cope with the change of living environment.
Among all this news, when I heard about a therapeutic robot named “Paro” who had been provided to some nursing homes to give psychological support for the elderly in Fukushima, I thought this could give hope and joy to many people involved with the tragedy.