One innovative Japanese aged care company is giving its clients a taste of Las Vegas – adding a welcome dash of excitement for the nation’s ageing population.
As Japan’s population ages, the term “day service” – essentially a daycare center for the elderly – is becoming a familiar term. These nursing centers are open during the day to people aged 65 or older (with some exceptions) who need nursing care, covered by nursing insurance, and the patrons go home at the end of each day.
What most Japanese people imagine when they hear this word is a white van with the name of the day service center painted on the side, picking up senior citizens for a day of light recreation and motor skills training such as drawing pictures or math drills. Of course, that’s because this is what most day service centers offer.
Lately however, centers that stray from the norm are gaining notoriety. One of them is Nihon Senior Life Inc’s “Day Service Las Vegas” center, with 23 outlets currently operating throughout Japan.
GAMING AND DAY SERVICE
The most unique feature of Day Service Las Vegas is that it incorporates “gaming” in the form of dedicated baccarat, blackjack and mahjong tables. Of course, this format does not include any actual gambling. However a special “currency” is used and it would be hard to tell there aren’t big bucks at stake from the attitude of the players. Even the pickup car is a cool, luxurious black instead of the typical ambulance-white. Once inside the facility, guests are transported to a grown-up theme park that’s a far cry from their everyday lives. IAG sat down with Kaoru Mori, Representative Director and CEO of Nihon Senior Life, and Toshikazu Seki, also a director, in Machida city, a suburb of Tokyo where one of the facilities is located.
Mori’s philosophy is clear. He speaks about the “unhappiness of people who have to go to places they don’t want to.”
“Previously our facilities were also conventional and we provided very typical services to patrons who wanted to hide the fact that they required nursing care, ‘hated’ to be picked up in a white car that screamed ‘nursing care’, disliked recreation like coloring pictures and doing math drills, and were poor at communication,” he says. “The result was that many lost the desire to go out and ended up holing away in their homes.”
Mori and Seki then ventured to the US to observe the local nursing care business, and that experience completely changed the way they go about their own operations.
Mori visited the Sun City Center in Florida. The community is massive and well-known as a premier 55-plus community. The senior citizens there enjoy golf, jogging and can be found playing poker and mahjong. But what really stood out was the happy faces.
They also visited Las Vegas, which boasts a large senior population, and noticed many elderly customers playing in the casinos during the day, high-fiving each other, and showing excitement, even over tiny bets.
They immediately knew they “wanted to bring this American concept of enjoying life in old age back to Japan.”
EFFECTS OF GAMING
In the facility IAG visited, a mock, in-house currency exclusive to the facility is used for gaming. Individuals can earn this when they take part in exercise known as “Physical Function Training”, then use the currency during recreation time.
Gaming is considered beneficial for activating the brain and preventing dementia. Instead of arithmetic drills, they use math for playing blackjack, baccarat and mahjong. There are daily and annual ranking systems for the in-house currency, creating a system where players can set goals and experience continuity.
“We get approximately 1,220 patrons per month [at all 23 facilities combined] and 6,000 total visits among them,” explains Seki. “The average age is 83-years old and 72% are male.”
“Many of our male customers are not skilled at communication,” adds Mori. “Also, because of the age gap between those providing the care and those being cared for, it’s hard to find common topics. However, when there is a common topic, for example gaming rules, it becomes easier to communicate.”
LIVING IT UP
IAG spoke with an elderly man enjoying a game of mahjong who is at this facility four times per week.
“The place I was going to before operated based on what the facility wanted to do. But here, they focus on us, which is really different from other places. It’s not lonely here. I’m very satisfied since I started coming here.”
Seki says the organization has attracted plenty of interest both locally and overseas, although he insists “we are not considering expansion internationally. We operate using Japan’s taxes, so we want to reinvest into Japan’s nursing care industry. It’s better for customers to have many choices. We just want to be one of those options.”
While the rest of the day service industry continues along a well-trodden route, Nihon Senior Life is plotting its own course, bringing something new to Japan. Undoubtedly this service will grow as one of the options allowing Japan’s aging population to enjoy life to the fullest.