Dying at home

TOKYO – After he was diagnosed with leukemia in July, Katsuo Saito decided not to treat it and opted for palliative care. He had a hard time finding a bed at a hospice or hospital, so he spent most of his remaining weeks at home.

“There are about 20 people on the waiting lists,” Saito, 89, told Reuters from his fifth-floor apartment in Tokyo where he lived alone.

Many Japanese are reluctant to die at home because they feel hospitals are safer and they don’t want to burden family members with caring for them.

But dying at home may prove an acceptable option as hospital beds become ever scarcer in an ageing society where one in four are over 65 and health officials predict a shortfall of more than 470,000 hospital beds by 2030.

“I think it’s good to have a doctor supporting people who choose to spend their final days, and naturally face death, in a place they spent their days living,” said physician Yuu Yasui.

Mr Yasui, who works at the Yamato Clinic, which has overseen more than 500 home deaths since 2013, hopes to offer hospice care at home for more of the terminally ill.

Mitsuru Niinuma, 69, chose to stay at home in order to spend more time with his grandson and his beloved dachshund, Rin.

“Home care allows people to use their abilities to their fullest for as long as possible,” he said. “That’s not so easy in a hospital. This aspect is really nice.”

Rising health care costs as the population ages have fuelled apprehension that Japan will eventually cap the number of hospital beds, although a health ministry official who declined to be identified called that scenario unlikely.

The bed shortage stems partly from long hospital stays, which ran 16.5 days on average in 2015, versus six days in Britain, a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed.

More than 80 per cent of Japanese prefer to die in hospital, the highest figure among 35 nations surveyed by the OECD.

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