The elderly deserve better care and happier 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.