Houses lie vacant, in decay as Japanese population ages

UNTV News   •   December 17, 2019   •   435

An abandoned house in the central district of Tokyo, Japan on December 17, 2019. EFE/ANTONIO HERMOSIN

TOKYO, JAPAN – Taken over by weeds and on the verge of collapse, abandoned houses have become a common sight and have reached record numbers in Japan in recent years, turning into one of the most visible signs of the country’s demographic decline.

The number of unoccupied houses, many of which are owned by untraceable or “ghost” owners, reached 8.46 million last year, accounting for 13.6 percent of total houses in the Japanese archipelago and double the number registered three decades ago, according to official data.

The number of such single-family homes, which carry visible signs of desertion, are especially high in rural areas of the country, but some can be seen even in districts of the highly-populated Tokyo, which figures among the list of cities with the highest land prices, reaching up to 57 million yen ($520,000) per square meter.

The phenomenon is a direct consequence of the rapid aging of the Japanese population, but is also linked to a law that makes it difficult to transfer and register properties, and the changing lifestyle of people.

Although depopulation in rural and suburban areas has occurred in many developed countries due to the loss of jobs in agriculture and industry, the problem has been aggravated in Japan due to demographic and legal factors, University of Tokyo engineering professor Chie Nozawa told EFE.

More and more Japanese people are living alone in big cities, and families that move to a city also rent or purchase new houses there, while parents or grandparents keep living in their houses — some of which have been inhabited for generations — until their death.

“When it’s their turn to inherit, the children already have their own houses,” said Nozawa, adding that the new generation Japanese were breaking the long-standing tradition of preserving the piece of land where their ancestors have always lived, due to weakening family ties.

An inheritance tax, which ranges between 10-50 percent of the property’s value, and the constant supply of newly built houses in the metros are other major factors, according to Nozawa, the writer of a book called “Aging Houses and Deteriorating Cities: the fate of a Society with Excessive Residential Supply.”

In Tokyo’s popular and central districts, collectively known as “Shitamachi,” the presence of crumbing homes awaiting demolition and reconstruction is striking, although the process is neither easy nor fast despite the attraction the land offers for real-estate developers.

Many houses legally belong to heirs who are unable to bear the necessary expenses attached to the property before it can be resold, while in other cases, the owners have died without naming a successor.

A number of home owners are also affected by old-age dementia, other disabilities or economic issues, which prevent them from taking care of old houses that could incur serious damage or develop structural issues over time.

The abandoned houses include many “ghost estates,” where the authorities are unable to locate the owners as records have not been updated for years.

The deteriorating condition of houses sometimes poses a threat to the residents or neighbors due to the risk of fire and collapse, which led to the government introducing a special norm in 2015 to accelerate the eviction and demolition process for dangerous dwellings.

In 2018, 67 houses declared “dangerous” were demolished, according to data compiled by state broadcaster NHK, while a study carried out by local daily Nikkei put the amount of land owned by unknown persons at around 4.1 million hectares (10 million acres), larger than the entire territory of Taiwan.

The government is set to approve a law next year to tackle the growing number of vacant houses, which would facilitate rearranging the space — often converting it to smaller units — to use it for public infrastructure, residences or business use.

However, Nozawa said that Japan’s demographic decline could lead to a “significant increase” in the number of vacant houses.

The Asian country registered its biggest demographic decline in half a century in 2018, losing 400,000 inhabitants due to a sustained drop in birth rates.

The population decline has affected all regions of the country, except Tokyo and other metros, which were the only localities that registered a net increase in the number of residents in recent decades.

Around 35 percent of the Japanese population is expected to be over the age of 65 by 2040 as the last of the Baby Boomer generation ages, a development which could lead to many more houses being abandoned, along with other socio-economic challenges. EFE-EPA

Elderly couple killed as torrential rains sweep away cars in Spain

Jeck Deocampo   •   September 13, 2019

An elderly couple died on Thursday (September 12) when floodwaters caused by torrential rain dragged their car and flipped it over in eastern Spain, local emergency services said.

The victims, both aged 70, were killed in the region of Castilla La Mancha, the 112 service said on Twitter. In the neighbouring Valencia region, at least two rivers burst their banks, forcing the evacuation of dozens of people.

The Clariano river flooded parts of Ontinyent, south of the coastal town of Valencia, while television footage showed a deluge tumbling through the streets of nearby Mogente, sweeping debris along with it.

Schools in Valencia and the Murcia region suspended classes, expecting the heavy rains to continue. Local authorities recommended people stay in their homes in the worst affected areas, where the weather interrupted traffic on roads and railways and at ports. (REUTERS)

Exercise may reduce disability even in frail elders

UNTV News   •   January 10, 2018

FILE PHOTO – A group of retired people take part in a Tai Chi class session in Nice February 19, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

(Reuters Health) – Sedentary older adults who start exercising may not reduce their risk of becoming frail, but they may experience less disability, a new study suggests.

Researchers randomly assigned 1,635 adults ages 70 to 89 to participate either in a structured exercise program or in health education workshops. The exercisers did up to 150 minutes a week of walking and activities to improve strength, balance and flexibility.

After two years, people who weren’t frail at the start of the study were no less likely to become frail with exercise than without it, the study found. But with exercise, they were less likely to lose their ability to rise from a chair, one component of frailty.

“The benefits of physical activity in terms of preventing physical disability still persist in older adults who are already experiencing symptoms of frailty,” said senior study author Roger Fielding of Tufts University in Boston.

“Nearly all older adults can benefit from a regular structured program of physical activity including those who are frail,” Fielding said by email. “In non-frail older adults, exercise may reduce the risk of developing specific components of the frailty syndrome like losing the ability to rise from a chair.”

At the start of the study, participants typically had some functional limitations, but they could walk 400 meters (0.25 miles) in 15 minutes or less without assistance. About 6 percent of the people in the exercise group and 5 percent in the health education group were already considered frail.

People were considered frail if they could not rise from a chair 5 times without using the arms, had lost a significant amount of weight recently, and felt like they had no energy.

Two years later, about 19 percent of the people in the exercise group and 21 percent in the health education group were frail. The difference between the groups was so small that it might have been due to chance.

The inability to rise from a chair was the only frailty criterion that was influenced by the exercise program. The percentage of participants who couldn’t accomplish this task was about 3 percent to 6 percent lower in the exercise group than in the health education group.

One limitation of the study is that researchers didn’t have data to show which individual components of the exercise program might have influenced frailty or disability.

Still, the results suggest that most elderly people can benefit from exercise, said Dr. Rebecca Brown, author of an accompanying editorial and a geriatrics researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“While there isn’t definitive evidence (yet) that exercise can prevent frailty, this study shows that exercise reduces the risk of disability, whether or not you are frail,” Brown said by email.

SOURCE: Annals of Internal Medicine, online January 8, 2018.

Criminal probe opens into eight deaths at Florida nursing home after Irma

admin   •   September 14, 2017

Police tape surrounds the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Hollywood, Florida U.S., September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Eight elderly patients died on Wednesday after being left inside a stifling South Florida nursing home that lost power during Hurricane Irma.

The incident prompted a criminal investigation as it added a tragic new dimension to mounting loss of life from the storm.

“This is very tragic. It’s very sad. Many of us have loved ones and assisted living facilities and we expect that care to be there for those people. And so that’s why, right from the onset, we took the initial step, we immediately started a criminal investigation into this matter and made sure that everyone was evacuated and we took control of the entire building immediately thereafter,” said Florida Police chief Tomas Sanchez.

Officials continued to assess the damage inflicted by Irma with the overall death toll from Irma climbed to 81 on Wednesday.

More than half of the number was recorded in the Caribbean.

The power losses from the storm had fatal consequences at the rehabilitation center at Hollywood Hills, a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, north of Miami.

Three elderly residents were found dead on Wednesday inside the sweltering facility, which had been left without air conditioning, officials said.

Five more patients from the nursing home later died at a nearby hospital, they said. — Reuters





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