Photo/IllutrationPamphlets created by local governments encourage senior citizens with dementia to apply for a compensation insurance program. (Hiroki Koizumi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Seven million elderly people in Japan are expected to be diagnosed with dementia by 2025, and municipalities are taking the lead in providing public support for accidents that such individuals may unwittingly cause.

A total of 39 local governments across Japan offer insurance programs that target the elderly, shouldering a percentage of the premiums for private-sector insurance that pays out benefits.

The programs cover such incidents as damaging merchandise while shopping and injuring a pedestrian while riding a bicycle, though exclude those involving automobile use.

The range of senior citizens covered, level of compensation and percentage of the premium covered differ among such programs provided by city, town, ward and village governments across Japan.

Many of the governments limit coverage to older people whose family members have registered the individual for a program whereby government officials regularly check in to ensure they can be found swiftly in the event that they wander from home.

The city of Yamato in Kanagawa Prefecture was the first to implement such an insurance program, in November 2017. In fiscal 2018, five other municipal governments followed suit and the number increased dramatically the following year.

The Kobe city government has set aside about 300 million yen ($2.8 million) from increased individual taxes to provide various support measures for those with dementia. Kobe began from April a combined insurance and condolence money program, whereby money is paid directly from the city government to those who suffer damage due to an incident caused by an older person with dementia.

As of August, 2,893 seniors or their family members had applied for coverage under the program.

A city official said benefits had already been paid out in three cases, including a stranger's bicycle being damaged and a senior citizen causing a mess at a retail shop.

The amount paid out ranged from about 9,700 yen to about 138,600 yen.

Interest in such programs was spurred by a case in 2007 in which Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) sued bereaved family members of a 91-year-old with dementia who was struck by a train after he wandered onto the tracks.

The company had sought 7.2 million yen in compensation for the resulting service disruption.

While the Supreme Court in March 2016 absolved the man's bereaved family of responsibility, the ruling highlighted the possibility of such compensation suits.

At a meeting of central government ministry officials in 2016, it was decided that it was still too early to create a public compensation program, leading to increased interest among municipalities.

As the 2007 railway accident occurred in Aichi Prefecture, 11 municipal governments, or close to 30 percent of the total, are in that prefecture.

A welfare ministry official said the various local programs would be assessed to determine if public compensation programs would be suitable at a national level.

Morio Suzuki, who heads Alzheimer's Association Japan, said its members desired a uniform public support system for seniors with dementia, as there were concerns that regional differences among local government-initiated programs could make them unfair.

However, Suzuki welcomed the efforts by local governments, as there have been cases in the past of initiatives pioneered by municipalities leading to the introduction of national social welfare programs.

(This article was written by Senior Staff Writer Takashi Kiyokawa, Hiroki Koizumi and Yasusaburo Nakamura.)