Home alone, China's elderly need better care and support

08:51, December 10, 2010      

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Elderly people in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, exercise by practicing the art of broadsword on Dec 4. [Wu Kuanhong / for China Daily]

Wang Yuchan, 54, is not always perfectly happy, even though her peers would envy her life.

With a good pension, the retired woman leads a comparatively good life in North China's Tianjin municipality. Her husband works at a State-owned company, and their only son, who is in his 30s, has a decent job in the southern manufacturing hub of Shenzhen.

But Wang worries about her future.

"My husband and I are getting older and older, and I know that one day we won't be able to get around. I don't know what our lives will be like then," she said.

"We live a good life with a stable income now. But I don't know what will happen when my husband retires. Our only son is very busy. He only comes back during the Spring Festival holiday."

Wang's concerns are well founded. Recently a series of incidents in Nanchang, the capital of East China's Jiangxi province, in which old people died unnoticed in their homes, highlighted the plight of elderly people who live alone.

In October, an old man in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province, lay undiscovered in his home for a week before neighbors raised the alarm after they noticed a strong stench from his room.

Statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs showed that there were 167 million people over the age of 60 in China at the end of 2009, accounting for 12.5 percent of the population. That proportion exceeds the figure of 10 percent recommended by the United Nations.

Nearly half of these older people are living in "empty nests", a term that describes the emerging social situation in which the elderly are forced to live alone as their children live and work in other cities.

As the proportion of the elderly in China's population increases, more attention needs to be given to what extra support older people need.

One problem is that many older people cannot afford the fees charged by many nursing homes and are forced to continue living alone.

In Nanchang, for instance, nursing homes charge more than 1,000 yuan ($150) a month, which is too expensive for many elderly people who survive on a small pension. The city has more than 90,000 elderly people living alone.

"Actually, many cities have been facing the same challenges. The number of government-owned nursing homes, which are cheaper than private ones, is limited. Elderly people have to wait a long time before being admitted to public nursing homes," said Chen Jia, a local social worker.

"The aged care industry is big business. Many private nursing homes provide quality services, but they only welcome those who can afford to pay," said Chen, adding that more nursing homes offering basic care are urgently needed.

Media reports said demand for nursing home beds outnumbers supply by almost 6 million across China.

Shanghai, which in 1999 became the first Chinese city to have an aging population, will have one-third of its population aged 60 or above in 12 years, according to the city's population and family planning commission.

"Public nursing homes are subsidized by the government, but the limited subsidy cannot provide enough beds and professional staff," said Zhang Naizi, president of Shanghai No 3 Social Welfare Home. "The number of beds in public nursing homes is very tight."

The city expects that in the future more than 90 percent of its old people will live at home, receiving more support from better-funded community centers to reduce their isolation and loneliness.

Source: China Daily(By Wang Hongyi)


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