Japan checks on elderly as centenarians go missing

Tue Aug 3, 2010 6:18am EDT
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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's health minister on Tuesday called for a nationwide check on the whereabouts of elderly residents in response to a media frenzy over several missing centenarians.

Revelations last week that police had found the mummified remains of a man thought to have been Tokyo's oldest resident at 111 but actually dead for 30 years shocked a country facing the challenge of a rapidly aging population.

Local authorities this week said a woman aged 113, designated Tokyo's oldest person, was not in fact living at the apartment where she was registered. That disclosure became one of Japan's top news stories, raising questions about living standards of the elderly.

"It is important for authorities to grasp the reality of where and how old people are living," Health Minister Akira Nagatsuma told reporters.

As of October 1, there were 41,000 centenarians in Japan, whose women have held the record for the world's longest life expectancy for 25 years.

More reports of missing centenarians this week showed that their whereabouts were unknown or their family members were unaware of what had happened to them.

But in the case of the mummified man, police are investigating his family members for possible fraud after money was withdrawn from the bank account of the deceased, who had been receiving a pension, according to media reports.

(Reporting by Yoko Nishikawa, Yoko Kubota and Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Ron Popeski)