community, health, mainichi shinbun, rikuzentaka, temporary housing

Disaster victims struggle to care for elderly family members in temporary housing, mainichi shinbun 7/23/11

RIKUZENTAKATA, Iwate — Residents in temporary housing built after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami are struggling to care for elderly family members with dementia and other symptoms, highlighting the need for better support measures.

Fusako Kanno, a 73-year-old resident of Rikuzentakata, is trying to decide whether to bring her 77-year-old husband to her temporary housing unit to care for him. He has dementia and is in hospital.

The two initially took refuge at an evacuation shelter set up at a junior high school, but the husband began shouting at times, announcing that he was “going home.” Not wanting to bother the others in the shelter, the wife had her husband moved into a hospital with his own room, but he escaped from the hospital several times, and his condition worsened to the point where he can now barely stand.

“I’m worried about trying to care for him on my own, and if I take him into the temporary housing facility then he might bother those around us by yelling about going home,” Kanno says.

Also worried about care is Kazue Konno, 42. Her 81-year-old mother-in-law had cataracts and light dementia before the disaster, but she was able to use a toilet by herself and it was not much work to care for her. After March 11, however, her condition worsened and she frequently raised her voice in terror. She had to start wearing diapers, but she sometimes took them off and soiled her bed. Walking became very difficult for her, and her vision deteriorated to the point where she could no longer see.

Perhaps because of her lost vision, she has calmed down since moving into temporary housing at the end of June. However, Konno says, “It’s impossible to care for an elderly person with heavy dementia in a temporary housing facility, where you have to be careful even when hanging laundry not to bother those around you.”

After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the government enacted a special measure allowing care facilities to exceed their official capacities so they could take in elderly people who had lost family care providers or couldn’t fit in at evacuation centers. If that special measure ends, more families may be forced to care for elderly members at home.

Yasuhiro Yuki, an associate professor of social welfare at Shukutoku University, says temporary housing facilities don’t have the same level of community spirit as that found at evacuation centers, where people live close together.

“In temporary housing the community of mutual support has collapsed, and we will likely see more cases in which people cannot care for elderly family members. We need new ideas that exceed the current framework for at-home care services and are based on the situation in the disaster area,” he said.

Click here for the original Japanese story

(Mainichi Japan) July 23, 2011

About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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