A senior undergoes a free physical examination at a high-end nursing home in Lujiazui district, Shanghai. Provided to China Daily
While many seniors are struggling to adapt to the rise of the internet, experts have said it is important to guarantee that elderly people without the latest technology can also access services.
“If elderly residents feel it is too difficult to learn the necessary skills to access services via smartphone apps, the government should provide adequate services offline to ensure that their lives are not compromised by a lack of modern technology,” said Zhou Haiwang, deputy director of the Institute of Population and Development at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
Shanghai, which has the oldest population in the country, is taking the lead in this respect, and elderly residents generally feel that they are receiving better social care and welfare than ever before, experts said.
In the past decade, the city has unveiled a raft of policies to support senior citizens, who are generally living longer as a result of improved public health networks and higher living standards. However, families’ ability to take care of them is shrinking because people are having fewer children and family units are smaller than before.
Last year, the average life expectancy of permanent Shanghai residents was more than 83 years, equal to the level in developed countries, and the city has topped China’s life expectancy figures for more than 10 years, according to the Shanghai Health Commission.
In the past year, 234 care service consultants have been dispatched to talk to 20,000 seniors in more than 100 communities across the city, explaining relevant policies and resources and helping the elderly to find appropriate services. The government plans to extend the program citywide this year.
For more than a decade, the municipal government’s annual task list has included the provision of more beds for seniors in nursing homes, during which time the number of beds has risen by about 7,000 every year. By the end of last year, there were 147,000 beds for seniors at 712 nursing homes across the city.
However, only 3 percent of Shanghai’s elderly population lives in nursing homes, because 90 percent either live in their own homes or with their families, while 7 percent live at home but rely on community assistance, such as communal canteens.
In the past four years, 155 nursing homes have been built within communities, meaning families can place senior members in the hands of trained nurses for day care or short-term respite care.
“When the families go on vacation or a caregiver falls ill, these facilities can take over,” Zhu Qinhao, head of the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, told local media during an interview last month.
Respite care centers, which can be used for just a few hours or as long as three months, are managed by organizations or companies that specialize in providing care services.
“I like the description the local government uses, ‘These care homes are where a bowl of soup brought from home is still warm.’ It feels like I’m still living in the community, and therefore I don’t feel lonely,” said 89-year-old Liu Cuilin, who has often stayed in respite care facilities.
Each facility has 10 to 40 beds, and priority is given to residents who live alone or come from low-income families. Seniors recovering from surgery who prefer to convalesce close to home rather than in hospital enjoy priority access.
One important project to help stay-at-home seniors involves the provision of meal-delivery services for older people in each of the city’s subdistricts at a cost of about 10 yuan ($1.50) per meal.
Moreover, 800 canteens in care service facilities are accessible to elderly residents, providing fresh, tasty and affordable meals.
The Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau said it aims to double the number of such canteens in 2022, and the number of people the meal service reaches is also targeted to double to 160,000.
Some seniors, such as those living near Jing’an Temple in the downtown, do not even need to leave home to access care services.
Five years ago, before the advent of respite care centers, authorities in Jing’an Temple subdistrict selected 100 seniors to receive 100 hours of free services a year at home, ranging from nursing care and massages to haircuts and housekeeping.
“The elderly need care, not just beds in nursing homes. We reach out to those who cannot or do not want to go to care homes,” said Fang Pei’er, director of the home-based care services center of Jing’an Temple subdistrict.