China explores in-home nursing

Updated: 2011-10-27 19:04


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XIAMEN - Although they have three children, 69-year-old Xia Xiuyun and her husband insist on living independently under their own roof, in the southeastern coastal city of Xiamen.

The retired couple is among the increasingly large numbers of "empty nesters" departing the Chinese tradition of reaching old age and moving to live with sons or daughters. While many in her position would have been expected to accept care from one or more of their family members, Xia and her husband are happy to live alone. "They are too busy with their jobs and their children, and we don't want to disturb them," Xia says of her immediate family.

They are helped in their bold approach by Xiamen's trials of "aging in-home services". At the Shengguang Community where they live, the couple get free physical checks, and enjoy a team of volunteers cleaning their house, delivering meals and more. Now, cities including Dalian, Nanjing and Shanghai are exploring similar initiatives for caring for the elderly.

China currently has more than 177 million people aged 60 or above, and the number is predicted to reach 450 million, or one quarter of the country's total population, by the middle of the century, according to  statistics from the latest national census released this year. At the same time, more and more youngsters are leaving their parents and swarming into big cities to make a living, leaving many elderly people with tough decisions to make. With the pressure on, the likes of Dalian, Nanjing and Shanghai would do well to learn from Xia's experience in Xiamen.

Three decades ago, the Xiamen Special Economic Zone was established at this coastal city. It served not only as a pilot area for economic reform, but also as a test-bed for China exploring new well-being policies for its population of 1.3 billion.

Furthermore, from last year, Xiamen's local government started to pay for local nursing centers to provide professional services at home for seniors who are struggling with poverty, disability or who are over 100 years old. Ordinarily, these services cost 10 yuan per hour.

Xia and her husband don't qualify for the free professional care, but she says they are very comfortable. After retirement, the couple stayed in Beijing for three years with one of their sons, but they "didn't like the hustle and bustle. The weather was dry, and things were expensive there."

She says they much prefer life in Xiaman, aided by students from the nearby Jimei University volunteering their time. The neighborhood committee organizes the volunteers.

"My husband likes their visits and chatting with them, and I also look forward to them coming and helping with some chores that we can't manage ourselves," says Xia.

Xie Caixia, a scholar on sociology from Xiamen University, praises the concept of in-home nursing. "It will to a large extent spare the time and energy of the young, and also reduce the burden of nursing homes," Xie says.