After Japan’s major nuclear accident in 2011, approximately 150,000 Fukushima residents were ordered to evacuate. Beginning in 2015, the evacuation orders have been systematically lifted. However, the health impacts of allowing residents to return to homes in areas previously uninhabitable due to nuclear radiation remain poorly understood.
Declaring radiation levels to be safe does not necessarily eliminate the concerns of residents about the effects of radiation exposure. Rebuilding medical, welfare, and commercial infrastructure and services takes time. Nontangible community elements, such as mutually dependent social networks, also require time to be re-established. Nevertheless, the Japanese government prioritizes policies that encourage evacuees to return home as soon as it is safe to do so.
Post-disaster evacuation situations and subsequent return home pose substantial—and as yet relatively unknown—mental and physical health threats for those affected, especially those in vulnerable groups, such as the sick, the elderly, and children.
Here we report a case of an elderly female evacuee with dementia, who was prevented from returning home after her hometown evacuation order was lifted, began exhibiting marked behavioral abnormalities. Loss of emotional ties that were created while she was housed in temporary accommodation appeared to be a critical contributing factor.