Aging population, changing attitudes drive China’s senior care boom

Source:Xinhua Published: 2015-12-21 20:03:01

A care worker feeds an elderly person in Shunde, Guangdong Province on September 17, 2015. Photo: CFP

Liu Yuping, a nurse at an elderly care facility in downtown Beijing, prepared soft food before spoon-feeding two men in their 90s.

"Papa Zhou, let's have dinner first," the 40-year-old nurse said to one of the elderly men, who is completely paralyzed and confined to his bed.

After blending vegetables, meat and rice into a paste, Liu scooped the mixture into Zhou's mouth slowly and wiped it gently from time to time.

On the other side of the room, the other old man, surnamed Wang, sat impatiently in a wheelchair.

"Mom, mom," 93-year-old Wang mumbled. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease years ago, and calls the people he trusts "mom."

"Please wait, your dinner will be ready in just a minute," the nurse told Wang.

Chinese people have traditionally relied on their children to help them in their old age, and institutions for the elderly have not been widely accepted.

But things are changing. With a soaring senior population and most adults working full time, attitudes toward filial piety and old age have shifted, fueling a rapidly growing elderly care industry.

"Elderly people with disabilities or dementia can receive professional care 24 hours a day in the care center, and the burden on families can be lifted a bit," said Wang's wife.

The number of people aged 60 or above in China reached 212 million at the end of 2014, accounting for 15.5 percent of the country's population, with the number of disabled elderly people approaching 40 million, statistics from the National Health and Family Planning Commission showed.

The UN predicts that people over 65 will account for 18 percent of China's population by 2030.

By 2050, China is expected to have nearly 500 million people over 60, exceeding the population of the United States, according to UN predictions.

The aging population has grown demand for elderly care services. According to a report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers earlier this month, Chinese people will spend over 10 trillion yuan ($1.54 trillion) from 2016 to 2020 on care, increasing 17 percent per year.

The center where Liu works was founded in 2013, after investors saw business potential in the aging population.

According to Kang Yanling, head of the elderly care institution, after an initial 5-million-yuan investment, investors put in another 7 million early in 2015, doubling the center's floor space and increasing beds to 212.

"We've made little profit, but I'm optimistic about the industry's future, as elderly care services will be trending everywhere," said Kang. She noted the number of elderly care institutions has grown from around 20 in 2012 to more than 40 in the Beijing district she lives in.

As of March 2015, a total of 31,833 elderly care institutions were registered in China, with as many as 5.84 million beds available, according to statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA).

   In order to meet the challenges of an aging society, the government has issued policies to improve the elderly care system, including opening up the market and encouraging private and overseas investment, which were included in China's five-year development proposal.

Kang's elderly care center has taken advantage of the government's favorable policies. She said the government has granted the center monthly subsidies ranging from 300 to 500 yuan per bed.

Despite the potential and support for the industry, there are still difficulties, not least of which is a lack of nurses.

China has around 290,000 elderly care nurses, which is far from enough to care for the number of disabled seniors in the country, according to Zou Ming, vice minister of the MCA. Most of the nurses are over the age of 40 with low wages and education levels, making them more prone to quitting, said Zou.

"Nurses are taking too many risks now due to a policy vacuum with regard to standards of service and responsibilities," said Sun Qiang, 22, who majored in elderly care before taking a job in a care center.

Moreover, the social status of senior care nurses in China is relatively low, and the field lacks prestige and respect. "This makes it harder to attract young people to the job," Sun added.

Newspaper headline: Young elderly industry

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