Services for the elderly

Updated: 2012-10-23 08:06

(China Daily)

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China has a long tradition of filial piety, which is highlighted by Double Ninth Festival, or the Day for the Elderly, observed today.

Filial piety was traditionally viewed as the highest virtue and children had an obligation to take care of their aged parents, so elderly residents would spend their remaining years with their children and grandchildren.

Today, however, young adults, most of whom are the only child of a family, often work far away from their parents' home, and so-called empty nest families, where the elderly live independently of their children, make up more than half of urban and rural families.

Often the children lack the time and energy to take care of their parents and grandparents even if they are willing to, especially since the family burden has become unbearably heavy for some, as the country's family planning policy means many couples have to care for four parents and eight grandparents as well as raise their own child.

Yet it is unrealistic to expect the elderly to take care of themselves unless they have the support of their community. A social services system that can meet the needs of the increasing number of senior residents in the Chinese mainland is desperately needed.

The central and local governments need to have a sense of urgency about this, as the number of residents aged 80 or over reached 19 million in 2011 and it is estimated there will be more than 100 million of them by 2050. The 40,000 nursing homes nationwide can only provide 3.15 million beds, which is clearly far from enough.

On the other hand, it is estimated that providing the services senior residents need could create millions of jobs and considerably promote consumption if preferential policies can be made to cultivate such a market.

Today, the traditional Chinese way of caring for the elderly needs to be backed up by a comprehensive range of home and community services. Only with adequate and quality services will elderly people be able to lead a comfortable life.

For elderly people without the support of their children, their quality of life will depend on how much support they receive and how conveniently such support is provided.

(China Daily 10/23/2012 page8)