The other day, I took my mother on a trip to a hot spring in the suburbs. She’s well over 80 years of age, and as we weren’t living together, I didn’t know her situation in detail. When I spoke with her on the phone beforehand, she was very receptive and her memory appeared solid, so I felt reassured that there was no need to worry about dementia. Even once we had started the trip, she walked faster than I did, had a healthy appetite, and talked a lot, which was also a source of relief. However, my wife, who spent a lot of time speaking with her in the bath, said that she would sometimes say the same things over and over again and that she might be displaying mild signs of dementia. My wife’s mother had suffered from dementia, which meant she would be more tuned into the signs than I am.
I wondered if I could do anything in such a case, but I wasn’t sure. I could hardly suggest she go to a brain training class, and even if I did, she wouldn’t do it if it didn’t interest her. Or I could suggest mahjong… but the result would probably be the same. After having given it some thought, I ended up not doing anything.
I remembered that she used to tell me about participating in various hobby groups, starting with social dancing. When I asked her about it during our trip, she said that she had recently stopped going to such gatherings altogether. I then asked her what had happened to the good friends that she used to regularly dine with, and she told me she hadn’t seen them since the pandemic. When I asked her if she had seen anyone else, her answer was “almost no one.” In short, she was spending most of her time at home and not interacting with others.
How I can support my mother in these conditions is a major issue. Since these situations do not change suddenly, but rather progress slowly, it is difficult for my mother and her family to feel a sense of urgency to take action. In many cases, action is taken (or in some cases still not taken) only after the situation has visibly worsened, but once that stage is reached, our options are limited. This is indeed a major problem facing our society. When I think about it like this, I realize once again that our job of providing people with appropriate information about end-of-life activities and encouraging them to take action while they are still in good health is a very important role for society, and I take pride in that.
The next thought that came to my mind after watching my mother was that, sooner or later, that was going to be me. She was 24 years old when she gave birth to me, so I should think that in 24 years, or even 20 years because of the individual differences between men and women, I would be in the same situation as she was—not participating in society, spending day after day not doing much of anything. Professor Lynda Gratton of London Business School says that we are living in the era of the 100-year life, but I don’t agree with that idea. Even if we have 100 years of life, we can divide that time into two parts: the time we are capable of acting of our own volition (e.g., 80 years) and the time we just live without taking part in society (20 years). And I think it is vital that we focus on the former, think about what we want to do and what we should do early on, and take action.
I don’t define “end-of-life” as preparation for death. Rather, it is a way to enrich our lives by being aware of death, which comes to us all. We need to speak to people and persuade them to take action. I believe that providing information on end-of-life activities should be my life’s work so that people can spend their lives with a sense of fulfillment.
Last summer, a slightly younger colleague who I had worked with for many years suddenly passed away. And just the other day, a friend and former classmate from my neighborhood, died just as suddenly. Their untimely deaths came as a great shock, but they are also sending us a message.
“That day comes for each of us. How will you choose to live until then?”
Chairman and CEO
Kamakura Shinsho, Ltd.