The el­derly de­serve bet­ter care and hap­pier life

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Sad news came one af­ter an­other in the past week. A man in his 70s froze to death in a shack at a vil­lage in­Weifang, Shan­dong prov­ince, leav­ing his brother alone. A 63-year-old man liv­ing alone in Nan­jing, Jiangsu prov­ince, and an aged man in Chengdu, Sichuan prov­ince, were found dead in their homes days af­ter they “dis­ap­peared”.

Ear­lier in Chengdu, a couple in their 80s died un­no­ticed, and their bod­ies had rot­ted by the time they were found.

The se­ries of tragedies give an in­di­ca­tion of the prob­lems China’s fast ag­ing pop­u­la­tion will bring. Ac­cord­ing to the Chi­naNa­tional Com­mit­tee on Ag­ing, the pe­riod of rapid ag­ing that started this year will end only in 2035, and dur­ing this time the pop­u­la­tion of the el­derly is ex­pected to in­crease by 29 per­cent, from 212 mil­lion to 418 mil­lion.

Since half of China’s el­derly pop­u­la­tion al­ready lives in empty nests— in cities the per­cent­age could be up to 70— car­ing for the el­derly has be­come a big chal­lenge. And one way to meet this chal­lenge is to de­velop el­der­care ser­vices.

China to­day has 27.5 beds per 1,000 se­nior cit­i­zens which are paid for from se­nior cit­i­zens’ pen­sion funds — an in­crease of 55 per­cent from 2010. Th­ese “pen­sion beds” are the fu­ture of el­der­care be­cause they in­te­grate in­sti­tu­tions, homes and com­mu­ni­ties, and al­low the el­derly to get more at­ten­tion. Pen­sion ser­vice in line with other ser­vices ca­ter­ing to the needs of se­nior cit­i­zens can thus help meet part of the chal­lenge of the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Also, se­nior cit­i­zens who live alone should get more care from vol­un­teers. A reg­u­lar knock at the door to en­quire about se­nior cit­i­zens’ health and well-be­ing can save a lot of trou­ble.

But an in­for­ma­tion man­age­ment sys­tem will be needed to mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion and al­lo­cate the re­sources, and the in­for­ma­tion data­base from the grass­roots should in­clude the liv­ing con­di­tions, mar­i­tal sta­tus and phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties of se­nior cit­i­zens, so that those need­ing spe­cial care can be iden­ti­fied.

More im­por­tantly, once the pen­sion frame­work is built un­der the gov­ern­ment su­per­vi­sion, the au­thor­i­ties have to en­sure that civil so­ci­ety ful­fills its so­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. To meet the needs of “empty nest” res­i­dents, com­mu­nity care ser­vices have to be fur­ther clas­si­fied and bet­ter im­ple­mented.

Se­nior cit­i­zens liv­ing in ru­ral ar­eas need spe­cial care, be­cause ru­ral el­der­care fa­cil­i­ties are ill equipped; for in­stance, they of­fer no recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties making in­mates life dull and mo­not­o­nous. The au­thor­i­ties, there­fore, have to make greater ef­forts to pro­vide proper care to the el­derly in ru­ral ar­eas.

In­deed, res­i­dents of some vil­lages have made ef­forts to pro­vide bet­ter care for se­nior cit­i­zens by or­ga­niz­ing self-help lodg­ing homes within com­mu­ni­ties, so that the el­derly do not feel lonely. But se­nior cit­i­zens who can­not take care of them­selves won’t be able to come to the lodg­ing homes, and the ab­sence of a proper sup­port sys­tem for such peo­ple makes the lodg­ing fa­cil­i­ties only a tran­si­tional at­tempt.

Sur­veys show that se­nior cit­i­zens feel hap­pier and more lively when they are with young peo­ple. In some ru­ral ar­eas of China, ex­per­i­ments have shown that se­nior cit­i­zens whose chil­dren are not al­ways around feel re­ju­ve­nated if they get to meet them or other younger peo­ple more of­ten. Cel­e­brat­ing the big fes­ti­vals with young com­mu­nity vol­un­teers is also a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in­ter­ac­tion that can go a long way in eas­ing anx­i­ety and the feel­ing of lone­li­ness among the el­derly.

And the onus to make se­nior cit­i­zens’ life hap­pier and more mean­ing­ful lies with the en­tire so­ci­ety.

Du Peng is a pro­fes­sor of geron­tol­ogy at Ren­min Univer­sity of China. The ar­ti­cle is an ex­cerpt from his in­ter­view with China Daily’s Zhang Yucheng.

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