China has been characterized by prodigious productivity and economic growth in recent years, but this has stalled as the population continues to age; the latest Bureau of Statistics data reveals that over 65s form 11.3% of China’s population – or, 115m individuals, which is more than the population of Russia. Bloomberg commentary in late April described the demographic imbalance as a ‘economic time bomb’.
With an ageing society, specific healthcare challenges are raised. While the one child policy has gone, the elderly rights law remains a significant part of private life and mandates senior care. However, with conditions becoming more complex and technology more advanced, what can be done to ensure the safety and quality of life of elderly relatives?
Guaranteeing independence and safety
It’s clear that the general population in China is ageing, and with that, life expectancies are up. Recent data from the World Bank found that the average life expectancy in China has reached 76; four years above the world average, and a huge increase from the 1960, when it was 44 and the world average was 52. This poses specific medical challenges, and a recent study by the British Medical Journal concluded that social support in China will aid seniors in avoiding harm and combating diseases, including TB. Families across China are finding ways to care for their seniors by providing support and using technology to remotely aid senior relatives in times of emergency.
Caring for mental health
Despite the Elderly Rights Law being very much in force, there are still a multitude of elderly citizens who do not have the benefit of a family in the country, or a family at all. The story of senior citizen Han Zicheng, attracted headlines worldwide last year when his story of seeking adoption struck a chord. It also brought China’s loneliness problem into sharp focus; it’s estimated that 10s of millions are in the same situation.
While loneliness can be underestimated as a trivial problem, it is a major contributor to elderly depression worldwide, including in China; a landmark University of Liverpool study found that 3.86% of senior citizens had depression, with comparable rates of symptom reporting to those of western countries. With much of this stemming from social conditions and loneliness, it is crucial for relative and friends to remain in contact and try to develop honest conversations with senior citizens to preserve their mental health. Mental health management processes such as meditation are also useful.
The ageing population of China is posing specific challenges to the care of valued elderly relatives and friends. Studies and research have shown that these challenges can largely be met with social intervention. However, much can be done, and will need to be as the population pyramid continues to turn upside down.
By Cassie Steele