Our basic approach and strategy
The aging of the population has proceeded more rapidly in Japan than in any other country in the world. In 2007, Japan became a “super-aging society” with over 21% of the population aged 65 or older which is forecasted to reach 30% by 2025. Improvements in medicine have led to an increased average life expectancy and a growing focus on “healthy-life expectancy” - the length of time for which people stay physically and mentally healthy and are able to live independently. Everyone wants to be able to maintain their own preferred lifestyle and a high level of well-being as they get older. Unicharm's mission is to contribute to the lengthening of healthy-life expectancy by offering support for the maintenance of active lifestyles through the provision of continence care products, including lightweight continence pads, rehabilitation pants, etc.
Social issues recognized
|Social issues||Our activities|
|・A shortage of carers
・Increased healthcare costs due to the increasing number of senior citizens in the population
・Isolation of senior citizens in regional communities
|・Provision of continence care products to support senior citizens' independent living
・Dementia prevention activities
・Building an environment in which people and pets can live in harmony
Contributing to the realization of the SDGs
Unicharm's “lengthening of healthy-life expectancy” activities are in conformity with the objectives of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) Goal-3 “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” and Goal-4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. In the future, we will continue to leverage our company's unique strengths with the aim of making an even greater contribution towards the solving of the world's shared problems.
With regard to “lengthening of healthy-life expectancy,” we are taking the number of participants in our “Social Walking®” initiative as a “social impact” indicator.
A total of 3,080 people have participated in our “Social Walking®” activity.
No. of people participating in “Social Walking®”
While the aging of the population has been accelerating, the number of people aged 65 or over who are still working has also been rising and there is growing awareness of the importance of taking steps to maintain one's health - for example by exercising, etc. - so that people can avoid the need for care as they age and can continue to enjoy an active lifestyle that suits them.
Of the various effects of aging (what are sometimes referred to as “geriatric syndrome”), continence problems - including urinary incontinence, etc. - can have a particularly big impact on mental health. People who are worried about urinary incontinence tend to stop going out, may not get enough exercise and may find themselves gradually becoming isolated from society, among other negative effects.
At Unicharm, we are continuing to take measures aimed at making more people aware of how appropriate care can enable them to continue to enjoy an active lifestyle, and we are striving to provide even better products, as one of the keys to realizing a lengthening of healthy-life expectancy.
Lifree “Social Walking®” contributes to the lengthening of healthy life expectancy
Lifree “Social Walking®” is a program aimed at helping to stop senior citizens from becoming “housebound and isolated” and to prevent “dementia.” For dementia prevention, there is widespread agreement that a good approach is to combine the “physiological approach” - which emphasizes regular exercise and a balanced diet - with the “cognitive approach,” which emphasizes maintaining human contact through hobbies, volunteering and involvement in neighborhood activities. When people have continence problems, they may become reluctant to leave their homes which in turn can lead to or exacerbate dementia.
Unicharm contributes to the lengthening of healthy-life expectancy through our provision of continence care products so that senior citizens can still keep going out as much as they want even if they have continence issues. We have launched the Lifree “Social Walking®” initiative, through which participants who are using Unicharm's continence care products have the opportunity to walk while enjoying social interaction in a purposeful way, thereby fostering exercise and social participation and helping to prevent dementia.
Since the “Social Walking®” program was first devised in 2016, we had already held its experience activities throughout Japan. In 2019, we partnered with the Foundation for Prevention of Dementia to launch the “Social Walking® Support Program” for dementia prevention. This is a new initiative to provide support to help local government authorities and NPOs that are interested in holding “Social Walking®” events, so as to get as many people as possible, in as many regions as possible, taking part in “Social Walking®.”
Holding a Lifree “Social Walking®” experience activity at the Unicharm Products Kyushu Plant
On September 6, 2019, a “Social Walking®” experience event and factory tour were held at the Unicharm Products Kyushu Plant in Kanda-machi, Miyako-gun, Fukuoka Prefecture. After a talk on dementia and a lecture on methods of preventing and dealing with continence problems, the participants were able to experience Nordic Walking within the plant ground. Besides learning how to walk with correct posture, using the whole body, while holding a walking pole in each hand, the participants were also able to see the difference in length of step compared to their normal walking pace and experienced an efficient form of aerobic exercise.
In their responses to the questionnaire survey that was administered to the 61 participants(whose average age was 64) after the activity, 97% of them stated that they had been very satisfied with the experience. In addition, 78% of them stated that they would be interested in incorporating “Social Walking®” into their normal routine at least three times a week. It was thus clear that participants appreciated the effectiveness of “Social Walking®”.
Voices of participants (selected comments)
- “After reaching the age of 70, I started to feel nervous about walking. My daughter was able to take part in the activity with me and it was a great opportunity to get out of the house.” (A man in his 70s)
- “I was able to enjoy walking energetically while chatting with local residents.” (A lady in her 60s)
- “I took part together with my husband and it has given us a new way of getting outside and enjoying ourselves. I hope that we will be able to keep doing it in the future.” (A lady in her 60s)
“Lifree Walking Assist Underwear” provides support for the torso and helps people to walk independently
With the assistance of 149 people who are engaged in providing care for family members, Unicharm conducted a questionnaire survey regarding the three main aspects of care provision(eating, bathing and excretion). The survey continued to be implemented with the same participants for five consecutive years, starting in 2015, to investigate attitudes to daily living activities in relation to care provision.
From the survey results, it was discovered that around 80% of people providing care for family members want the care recipient to be able “to live with as much autonomy as possible,” but that many of them are concerned about whether the care recipient can “walk safely.” The “function of walking” is an extremely important one and could be said to be the foundation for all daily living activities. However, as people get older, walking ability tends to deteriorate and they become more reluctant to leave the house which can lead to becoming isolated from the local community.
More detailed survey questions used to clarify the rather broad concept of “deterioration in walking function” showed that this involved a complex mix of factors such as “walking with too short a step”, “poor left-right balance” and “moving very slowly”. This kind of “deterioration in walking function” is very likely to lead to deterioration in overall activities of daily living(ADL) and the survey results confirmed just how important this is.
While more than 60% of respondents agreed that “Walking is very important for staying healthy,” in reality, only around 30% of the care recipients were actually “leaving the house at least three days a week”*. This was due to the carers' concern about whether the care recipients could walk safely with carers worrying that “their balance isn't good”, “they are walking with too short a step”, “the walking speed is too slow”, etc.*
* Based on Unicharm survey results.
People who are taking proactive steps to stay healthy and who feel that walking is important
Nervousness about going outside due to deterioration in walking function
In order to walk stably, it is very important for the pelvic floor to be strong enough to support the torso. Unicharm's newly-developed “Lifree Walking Assist Underwear” product is a special type of pants using technology which exerts pressure on the pelvic girdle to enhance abdominal muscle pressure, thereby providing support for the torso and helping the wearer maintain their balance which in turn makes the wearer feel less anxious about walking. The structure of the pants is designed so that it does not restrict the movement of the legs, enabling the wearer to take longer strides and making it easier to walk. The fabric used has been carefully designed to be thin, elastic, soft and breathable, with a similar texture to ordinary cloth underwear so that users can wear “Lifree Walking Assist Underwear” for everyday living activities without feeling uncomfortable.
“Pelvic Support Fit®” structure
By providing support to help people walk independently – which is the foundation for activities of daily living(ADL) – in addition to support for “autonomous excretion,” we aim to contribute towards the lengthening of healthy-life expectancy.
Working towards the building of a cohesive society in which people and pets can live harmoniously
Unicharm has been working to enhance the quality of life of senior citizens so that they can continue to live an active lifestyle that suits their needs. At the same time, we have also been striving to improve the living environment for pets, through the development and sale of pet products such as pet foods and pet toiletry products, etc. One of our goals is to help to make it possible for people and pets to live together happily.
For many people, having contact with animals can put a smile on their face and help to relieve stress. Furthermore, when senior citizens who are receiving care have contact with animals, this can help to strengthen their autonomy and improve their quality of life. As is outlined in more detail below, survey results have shown that, when opportunities for interaction with animals are provided in care facilities for senior citizens, this reduces the percentage of residents who are reluctant to get out of bed and increases the percentage of residents who feel able to chat cheerfully with others. At the same time, interacting with humans seems to have a positive impact on animals as well. With the aim of helping to build a cohesive society in which people and pets can live in harmony with one another, we are implementing “animal-assisted therapy” activities and other initiatives to demonstrate clearly the positive impact that people and animals can have on each other.
Striving to pursue “comfort” for both people and animals through animal-assisted therapy
Animal-assisted therapy is a treatment method that helps restore people to health through the psychological benefits - including a reduction in stress and a greater sense of security - that derive from having interaction with animals. Working in collaboration with the Japan Animal Hospital Association (JAHA) - which visits senior citizen care facilities, hospitals, schools etc. to provide animal-assisted therapy under its Companion Animal Partnership Program (CAPP) - Unicharm has since 2018 been using scientific analysis to verify the effectiveness of interaction between humans and animals in terms of enhancing feelings of “comfort.”
We have been implementing animal-assisted therapy together with senior citizens living in hospitals and Special Nursing Homes who agreed to collaborate on our research. Saliva samples were taken, before and after the therapy, to test for hormone secretion, and a heart rate sensor was used to evaluate autonomic nerve function. In addition, during the therapy, video cameras were used to record the number of times that participants smiled and evaluate their expressions.
The results obtained confirmed that interacting with animals was accompanied by an increase in happiness hormones, changes in the heart rate that indicated relaxation, and an increase in the frequency with which participants smiled. We were thus able to obtain scientific evidence demonstrating that interacting with therapy dogs can enable people to feel happiness and joy.
We also measured the changes in hormone secretion and in heart rate in the therapy dogs and their owners. The results showed a clear increase in the secretion of happiness hormones in many of the therapy dogs and their owners. It was clear that it is not just senior citizens living in hospitals or Special Nursing Homes that benefit from interaction between humans and animals; interacting with senior citizens improved the mood of the therapy dogs and their owners and enabled them to feel happiness too.
In November 2019, we conducted additional research in which we measured the changes in hormone secretion and heart rate of dog owners and their dogs when engaged in walking the dog. Participants learned the correct technique for dog-walking. The results demonstrated that there was an increase in the secretion of hormones denoting happiness for many of the participating people and their dogs and that they were able to get exercise at the target heart rate which maximizes the effectiveness of the exercise, after walking together for a distance of around 2 km.
Responding to the increase in the number of older pets requiring care (resulting from the increase in average pet lifespan due to improvements in pet-food and in medical treatment for pets), Unicharm develops and markets a range of pet care products including pet care mats, pet toilet-care sheets with enhanced breathability, sanitary products for pets, etc.
We will continue to develop and verify new products in the future, in line with our goal of building a cohesive society in which people and pets can live harmoniously.