In the Japanese prison system, 18.2% of the inmates are aged over 65 (compare that to the US average of just 2.2%). In Oita Prison, the number is even higher – 21% – and the officials have had to develop new ways of handling challenges, including handling the increasing number of inmates with dementia.
A new report has revealed that older inmates in the coastal prison are being given Nintendo DS handhelds and invited to play brain training games. Inmates have responded well to the programs, which are combined with yoga and stretching exercises two or three times a month.
One inmate in his sixties (imprisoned for fraud) explains:
The DS is the most fun part. I want to keep my brain sharp by practicing like this.
Prison officials report that dementia symptoms are often worse among the incarcerated, with older prisoners hallucinating and hearing voices. The warden in charge of the over-65s program says he hopes that support for the older prisoners will continue even after they are released:
We need a support system for prisoners once they are released, too. After they get out of prison, I hope they will take steps to continue to look after their [mental] health, such as using the DS.
Even though the overall prison population of Japan is declining, the number of prisoners aged 65 or over has increased nearly five-fold in 20 years. While it’s believed Oita Prison is unique in its use of Nintendo gaming machines, other prisons offer aerobics and yoga sessions, as well as programs designed to prevent re-offending by equipping older inmates with the skills and knowledge they need in the real world.