Brazilian elderly have a better quality of life than the elderly Japanese 

Japan is now the nation with the highest life expectancy at birth (82.6 years). The country also has a significant number of centenarians and supercentenarians (people over 110 years old). We can learn a lot about aging by studying how the oldest of the old people are living, especially if they maintain active and relatively healthy lives.  And it is surprising to know that in a comparative study on quality of life between Brazilian elderly and elderly Japanese, the Brazilians seem to come out ahead regarding quality of life.

During the 20th “Congress of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics – IAGG”, held in late June in Seoul, South Korea, the working session entitled “Quality of life in the elderly in Japan and Brazil” brought to light important presumption and reflections on aging, shifting some preconceived ideas on the subject. 

Two Brazilian researchers, Priscila Yukari Sewo Sampaio and Ricardo Aurelio Carvalho Sampaio, who live in Japan, participated in the presentations. Priscilla contributed with the research “The Quality of Life Comparison between Japanese and Brazilian Older Adults”.  Sampaio presented the study “Comparison of Physical Health and Quality of Life in Older Adults in Japan and Brazil”.  

In her research evaluations to assess quality of life, Priscilla concluded that the Japanese come out ahead when it comes to physical health, mobility and nutritional conditions. Brazilians, however, stand out in the evaluations of social and psychological aspects of aging.   “For Japanese, the body is a machine. The concept of health in Japan primarily covers physical health and the number of accumulated years one lives,” explained the researcher.  

According to Priscilla, the preconceived notion that aging in the East is almost always better than in the West needs to be revised.  “There is loneliness here [in Japan].  Health services or nursing homes lack human resources, so they use robots to care for and entertain the elderly,” she explained. Japanese live longer, but not necessarily with a better quality of life.  “With age, they become more dependent and don’t want to be a burden to their family. There is a high rate of suicide in this age group, as well as in the younger [groups]", she warned.  

The research concluded that although Japan is more economically developed than Brazil, Japan has lower scores than Brazil in relation to quality of life.  “This study wants to propose ways to improve wellbeing for elderly Japanese, restoring human relationships, involving elderly in the community and offering them more opportunities to play new roles in longevity,” Priscilla concluded.  

Sampaio´s work emphasized the importance of physical activity in one´s later years. It also showed the importance of leisure and social activities which promotes social integration.

According to Sampaio, “Both Brazil and Japan need to review public health policies for the elderly.  It is very important to explore the social component in this context, but we cannot let health slide. We need to get that balance. Japanese society leaves no room for physical contact. The exercises are done in silence, alone, without interaction.  In Brazil it's different. Brazilians have more benefits: even in lower economic situations, elderly people seem to be more integrated in their communities.”