The seventh national census shows that the number of people aged 60 and above has reached 264 million in China. According to the National Office on Aging, during the 13th Five-Year Plan, the population aged 60 and above increased by 8.4 million; and it has been estimated that during the 14th Five-Year Plan, the number is likely to increase by 11.5 million.
The soaring number of senior citizens poses big questions for the whole of society, including how best to provide healthcare, care facilities, social insurance, mental health support and access to technology.
Surveys reveal that 90 percent of the elderly in China prefer to be looked after at home instead of going to care centers. Yet this places a considerable burden on younger relatives needing to go to work and care for children. Meanwhile, family members may not have the necessary healthcare skills to look after older people in poor health. Cost is another big concern as hiring private healthcare staff can be very expensive.
In a bid to tackle these issues, the government has begun to invest in community healthcare centers, which enable seniors to be cared for close to home. The community centers hire both volunteers and professional staff, such as nurses and social workers, to provide the elderly with medical services, mental health support and meals. So far, more than 200 community healthcare centers have been set up across the country.
Improving public facilities to make them more accessible for the elderly has also been a focus since the 13th Five-Year Plan. Public transport, public toilets, neighbourhoods, elevators and other public spaces will continue to be modified to meet the needs of older people.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health has devoted itself to developing a model which can deliver medical services throughout the entire social care system. Management guidance has been published for hospitals and communities to establish a system which bring services such as checkups, tests, therapy and rehabilitation closer to where elderly people live, including at home and in care centers.
Mental health is something that increasingly cannot be ignored. Sometimes people find themselves drifting into depression after retirement, due to loneliness and lack of hobbies. In Sichuan Province, a group of volunteers consisting of younger retired people drew up plans to visit and help older seniors, including some with disabilities. In Hubei Province, another group of retired teachers have been re-hired to teach in schools where there is a shortage of teaching staff. In addition, the government has supported the establishment of universities where senior citizens can learn new skills and hobbies.
Advances in technology have made most people’s lives more convenient, yet not all age groups have benefitted equally. During the pandemic, this problem came to public attention when elderly people with smart phones could not scan the QR codes required to use public transport or enter supermarkets. In 2020, the General Office of State Council proposed a plan to tackle this, and the National Office on Aging has suggested removing the barriers that prevent the elderly from accessing information technology within three years.