Good Neighbors Company

Good Neighbors Company (GNC), one of our FIT 2019 beneficiary organisations, promotes the idea of "playful care" to provide not only medical care received in hospitals but also care full of creativity and laughter in the community in Japan where the population is aging. We spoke with the founder, Aiko Shimizu.

FIT: First, could you tell us about your background and history of GNC?
Shimizu: I was originally engaged in innovation design at an advertising agency. The job involved field research to identify needs of consumers, and to provide consultation to corporates. Then the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake came, which created more opportunities for me to go to rural areas. I witnessed the aging population, which was even more serious than in urban areas. Thereafter I began to think about how I could become happy as I became elderly, and create a society where elderly people can live healthily. Since then, I have become interested in community medical care and welfare.

As I grew up in a family environment where both parents were doctors, I had an understanding that medical care is important for the elderly to live well in a community. On the other hand, because I worked at an advertising agency, I had a perspective and feeling that there was a limitation in the care just provided by medical institutions. Communication was required to fill the gap, and I wanted to use my skills in from my advertising experience to solve this problem. I then decided to enroll in a medical school in my thirties, as I felt that medical qualification would also be beneficial in solving problems in rural issues. After that, I decided to start GNC with a few volunteers.

FIT: What is the concept of the Kuchi Building Championship (Oral Muscle Building Championship)?
Shimizu: I had an interest in dietary themes since I was working in marketing. When I entered medical school, I learned that “aspiration pneumonia” is driven by weakening ability to eat, causing pneumonia and leading to death. Ability to eat is a function of the muscle, which can weaken but also can be trained.
We thought it would be interesting to propose "training" as a sports event, specialised in eating and swallowing function (ability to eat). We held the 1st Kuchi Building Championship (Oral Muscle Building Championship) with fellow dentists at a facility for the elderly in Ishinomaki. The elderly people were more excited than we had imagined and enjoyed the game. When we posted on SNS, we received positive responses from people in other regions, and our business gradually took shape.

FIT: Tell us about your challenges.
Shimizu: Many volunteer healthcare professionals are involved and we are dedicated to developing fun, safe and exciting programs with their medical knowledge. However, some people feel uncomfortable with the coexistence of "care" and "fun", and it is difficult for local governments and some medical professionals to understand the idea of providing fun and enjoyable care as a sport. It takes an effort to change such biases.

FIT: How did you come up with the daily calendar "Mainichikuchi Building" (Every day, Oral Muscle Building) project?
Due to Covid-19, all the Oral Muscle Building Championships that were scheduled after 2020 have been cancelled. In the midst of all this, the medical scene was in chaos, but I was also very concerned about the health conditions of the elderly who were refraining from going out in the community.

Even though Covid-19 will be resolved in the future, it is difficult to improve the lost physical strength of elderly people, therefore I wanted them to at least maintain their current strength. We created a daily flip calendar, "Every day, Oral Muscle Building" that combines 1 preventive action per day, such as simple exercise. We hope that this training in the power to eat, and frailty prevention, can make the elderly feel connected to society, and can enjoy every day even when alone at home.

The content of the Oral Muscle Building Championship, which has been provided for a fee in the past, including the competition and voluntary training programs, has been provided free of charge in this new form called "Every day, Oral Muscle Building" so that even one elderly person can do on their own. It can also be used by home healthcare professionals, clinics, nursing care facilities, and care managers.

In April, we were thinking of creating something that could be easily made and quickly distributed throughout the country. However, as the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and other medical institutions issued a formal announcement, we took time to furnish a collection of "playful care" that can be fun. With friends, we funded production costs through crowdfunding, and completed the "Every day, Oral Muscle Building" which can be enjoyed over time well into the future.

By using this daily flip calendar "Every day, Oral Muscle Building", we hope to let people know the importance and fun of training the strength to eat. When everyone can gather again in the future, we hope to be able to lead them to participate in the "Oral Muscle Building Championship" and for people to participate in the Oral Muscle Building Certified Trainer Course which will be held regularly.

Good Neighbors Company