Bringing smiles to the elderly

By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-05-19 10:52

Bringing smiles to the elderly

A look at some of the initiatives taken by the city's authorities as part of efforts to provide quality care for residents in their twilight years

While sending one's parents to an elderly care home is still generally frowned upon in Asian societies, perceptions are gradually shifting in Shanghai as the government strives to enhance the quality of life of its senior citizens.

Instead of conventional nursing homes, authorities have introduced a slew of multi-functional care centers across the city that combine essential services such as meals, haircuts and assisted showers with a vibrant atmosphere for people to socialize.

Located within residential communities and built from existing community facilities or public properties that were not in use, these care homes also offer more flexibility as seniors do not necessarily have to reside within the premises.

Yu Ling, a manager at one such facility in Pudong New Area, said that one of the main problems for seniors is traveling to these homes. As such, his care center offers transport services.

Liu Cuilin, who stays in such a center whenever her daughter is out of the country, said that she enjoys being at such venues.

"I like how the Shanghai government describes such facilities as 'places where a bowl of soup from home is still warm'. I like being in such communities. I don't feel lonely when I'm there," she said.

Zhang Haixiang, deputy director of the civil affairs bureau in Jing'an, a downtown district that has the highest percentage of senior residents in the city, noted that an increasing number of people are warming up to the idea of care centers.

"These establishments are popular among the elderly as well as their children as the seniors can enjoy professional care services without the need to leave the community. It is also convenient for the family to visit," he said.

"Many of the facilities have been fully booked. Some people stay only during the day, others only during the night. There are also those who only stay when their children are traveling."

He also noted that such facilities can be ideal places to recover following an operation as the staff are trained to provide medical assistance.

"People usually recover at home following an operation. Being in such a care center where professional care is readily available can help speed up the recovery process," he said.

There are presently about 80 such elderly care homes, each equipped with between 10 and 40 beds, across Shanghai. Authorities said they are looking to roll out such facilities in each sub-district in the city by the end of this year.

Official statistics showed that the number of Shanghai residents aged 60 or older hit 4.58 million as of the end of last year. This figure accounted for more than 31 percent of the city's registered population, a stark contrast to the national ratio of 16.7 percent. According to the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, the number of senior residents will rise to 5.3 million by 2020.

An inclusive venue

A care home on Jing'an district's Yangqu Road not only welcomes the elderly but also children and residents of all age groups.

The home features two children's play rooms equipped with slides and various toys. Volunteers of the home are always on site to supervise the children while they play. There is also a reading room where students can read books and do their school assignments.

Jiang Lili, director of the community service office of Jing'an's Linfen sub-district, said they are now considering introducing childcare services.

"We don't want such care homes to become an isolated island specifically for the elderly. Instead, we hope to turn it into a platform of openness and inclusion so that the elderly can spend their twilight years in an energetic atmosphere," said Jiang.

"Although this seems like a service for kids, it actually benefits the elderly as well because children inspire a passion for life in the elderly. Furthermore, when the children are being cared for, their grandparents are free to do what they like," she added.

Zeng Chao, director of operations at Aizhaohu, a Shanghai-based provider of professional elderly care services that was hired to manage the operations of the center, said that their purpose is to encourage the elderly to stay active rather than spend the day sitting or lying in bed.

Jiang said that some of the older children who regularly hang out at the center have volunteered to take care of their younger peers in the play rooms and interact with the elderly through singing and dancing.

Last winter, these students even came up with a timetable to ensure that there are at least two of them on duty every day.

She recalled that residents in the area initially objected to the construction of the center, viewing such places as "gloomy" and "depressing". Perceptions have quickly changed, however.

"Now people are applauding this lively spot and the benefits it brings. Those who live closest to the care home are now the most envied in our sub-district," she said.

Professional care at home

For some elderly residents in Jing'an Temple sub-district who do not wish to be in such care centers, professional help is brought right to their homes.

For the past three years, 100 elderly people in the sub-district have been enjoying 100 hours of free nursing service in the comfort of their own residences. Each individual can decide how he or she wants to use the hours. The services include haircuts, massages and housekeeping.

Fang Pei'er, director of the service center of home-based care for the elderly of the sub-district, said that such an initiative helps to alleviate the burden of caregivers in the family.

"There is a Chinese idiom that goes: There are few dutiful children at the bedside of a parent with a chronic disease. In light of this, we want the children to take a break from caregiving. This will ensure that their devotion to their parents is sustainable," said Fang.

To be eligible for this initiative, candidates must be either above 80 years old and semi-independent or above 60 years old and completely reliant on help to live.

Cheng Shanfen, 67, and her 97-year-old mother who has been bedridden for seven years, have been beneficiaries of this policy for three consecutive years.

Cheng said she is the only member in the family who takes care of the mother. She explained that her sister lives in the suburbs and has to take care of her sick husband while her brother suffers from a serious illness. Cheng's husband died when their son was 7 years old.

"My son got married four years ago. I told him not to start a family soon as I cannot spare any time to babysit," she said.

One of the biggest challenges in caring for her elderly mother is bathtime.

"It's difficult to give my mother a bath at home and it's a torture for the two of us to travel to a public bath," she said.

Thanks to the home-care initiative, a caregiver helps to clean her mother everyday, in addition to the once-a-week bath in a special inflatable tub at home.

"I have confidence that there will be more of such services that cater to the real needs of the citizens when we are old," said Cheng, who gave her thumbs up for the policy.

Other elderly care measures

In addition to care centers, the Shanghai government had for the first time in May 2016 introduced a monthly allowance for seniors above age 65.

Senior citizens receive different amounts depending on their age. Those aged 65 to 69 will receive 75 yuan ($11) per month, while those aged above 100 will receive 600 yuan per month.

The money is transferred to a debit card that can be used for shopping and withdrawing cash. Government officials said the city needs to spend 4.5 billion yuan every year on such allowances, which are used mainly to defray travel and food costs.

The government has also introduced a meal delivery service for the city's senior residents who prefer to stay home or face difficulties moving about. Each meal costs only 10 yuan.

"There are many seniors who live alone nowadays. They usually cook one large meal and consume it over several days. This food delivery initiative ensures that they get to eat fresh food every day," explained Fang.

Sun Fuhua is one of the food delivery staff from the Jing'an Temple sub-district. The meals that he delivers are prepared by a hospital and nursing home in the sub-district. He collects the food using a special tricycle every day at 9 am and has to complete delivery before noon.

"We need to finish delivering nearly 100 portions of meals within two hours. I don't want the seniors to wait for long and suffer from hunger," said Sun, a 56-year-old native of rural Zhumadian city, Henan province.

"I don't think any temporary substitute for me can do the job well. There are so many zigzagging alleys in the area and the house numbers are sometimes not clearly shown," he added.

Sun also makes it a point to check in on the elderly.

"Even if they are busy with something or are in the bathroom, I will only leave after I know that they are fine," he said.

Over the years, Sun has developed a close relationship with many of the residents. After all, he has been meeting them nearly every day for the past seven years.

He said the only time he skipped a delivery was to attend his daughter's wedding. The elderly trust him so much that more than 40 of them have given him the key to their homes.

"When it rains, I don't need to wait outside for the seniors to open the door for me," he said.


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