©Kazuo Koishi


Fostering a village community attuned to the needs of the elderly


The village of Kawauchi in Fukushima Prefecture’s Futaba District is located within the 20-30km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor. The earthquake on March 11th 2011 recorded a magnitude of 6 and shortly after it struck, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident occurred. As a result, the entire village was evacuated. Approximately one year later in April 2012 the village’s designation as a restricted area was lifted and villagers started to return to their homes. Local municipal government began functioning again, but the restoration of services that make up the bedrock of daily life such as schools and commercial outlets was inadequate. Many of those who returned to the village were elderly.

©Kazuo Koishi


By 2014, approximately 40% of the residents who had been living in the village prior to the disaster had returned and by January 2017, this had risen to approximately 70%. In January 2017, 40% of these residents were elderly (aged 65 or above). Despite this high rate of elderly among the population the demand for care services still outstrips what is currently available, with care facilities still not reopened or temporarily suspended and insufficient numbers of care workers. Since younger generations are remaining in the places that they were initially evacuated to, family units are fracturing and the number of single households occupied by the elderly is increasing. A delay in the resumption of services at hospitals and other medical systems has also brought about the need for measures to address dementia prevention and care.

Medecins du Monde’s INVOLVEMENT

Given these circumstances, Médecins du Monde Japon(MdM Japan)dispatched psychiatrists and mental health welfare professionals to Kawauchi to start working on dementia prevention and to offer support to families with members already suffering from the condition. MdM Japan carried out awareness raising activities around the issue of dementia as well as offering advice sessions to individuals suffering from or suspected of suffering from dementia and their family members, etc.

These activities’ objectives included…
・Correct understanding of dementia, and enabling others to interact with sufferers of dementia without discrimination or prejudice
・To feel the importance of mutual understanding and support amid the local community in order to foster an environment in which people can live comfortably, even if they become diagnosed with dementia.

A role play exercise was carried out in a meeting about dementia with some assuming the role of dementia sufferers, and others acting as sufferers’ family members. Through the role play participants got to experience communication methods from the perspective of the dementia sufferer, and residents have now started using these communication methods for themselves.

©Kazuo Koishi


While the understanding of family members and the local municipality is necessary to create a community that the elderly can live in comfortably, the understanding of local residents is also essential. In a welfare and healthcare environment where evermore individual care is needed, there are limits to the type of top down implementation carried out by local municipal government.
“Listening to dementia sufferers and adapting to the speed at which they live their lives”
Fostering a caring environment has now transformed into a new effort led by residents themselves. It involves local municipal bodies, residents and sufferers communicating with one another on an equal footing, and is drawing the attention of other municipalities who are interested in the model.
MdM Japan is working in partnership with the Kawauchi Health and Human Services Dept. and offers advice related to community planning, such as the conceptual planning and implementation of schemes to help the elderly who have returned to the village lead active lives.

*A greater part of this program is funded by the “Tomo ni Ikiru ” Fund of Japan Platform.

Recommendation from Support Projects in the Areas Afflicted by the Great East Japan Earthquake: “KoKoRo of FUKUSHIMA”

Mental health care centered on knowing the needs of the residents, listening to the voices, making connections, respecting each individual’s choice and time, now three recommendations will be sent here to lead the creation of new local community that brought by the resilience of the people of Fukushima and the support of the administration.

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