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Business

Senior care providers in Japan get help from latest gadgets

Virtual-reality headsets, smartwatches used for reducing workload

Sompo Care Next has started using virtual-reality headsets for staff training.

TOKYO -- Nursing care service operators in Japan have started employing virtual-reality headsets and other high-tech devices for training staff and improving service efficiency.

The industry's chronic labor shortage is expected to reach a shortfall of 400,000 in 2025, according to an estimate. Operators are turning to new technologies to alleviate this problem.

Sompo Care Next, a unit of Sompo Holdings, has introduced 20 or so virtual-reality headsets into its recruitment and training of new workers. The system lets people "experience" dementia by showing visual hallucinations, for instance. Virtual-reality content producer Silver Wood helped develop four different programs. By also giving new recruits and prospective staffers a sneak peek of what the actual workplace may be like, the company seeks to reduce staff turnover.

Human Holdings started using Sony's wearable devices in its day service this month. One of the gadgets, a compact, sensor-equipped device, is attached to a leg during exercise to measure the seniors' body functions, including muscles and stamina. During normal life routines, a watch-type device keeps track of bed and meal times.

A dedicated app for tablet computers proposes an optimal exercise regimen and measurement methods. This shortens what normally takes half an hour to just five to 10 minutes -- easing the burden on occupational therapists and others.

The company has so far introduced the devices at just two locations in Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture for testing. The plan is to gradually expand to its 92 day-service sites across Japan.

In cooperation with systems company Infocom, major care provider Solasto developed an application for automatic processing of communication with family members of day-service care users, as well as filing with local governments. The company says the system will cut the roughly 120 hours a month of clerical work by two-thirds.

About 300,000 people each year use for-profit senior group homes and some 1.92 million use day-service facilities, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The jobs-to-applicants ratio for nursing care workers was 3.53 in January, compared with the all-industry average of 1.36.

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