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BEIJING - Tens of millions of Chinese families are struggling to take care of their elderly relatives, according to a recent report in Health News, a newspaper affiliated with the Ministry of Health (MOH).
"At least tens of millions of households are having difficulties with elderly care," Wu Yushao, vice director of the China National Committee on Aging, was quoted as saying.
Wu made the remark at a symposium held by the MOH to explore the possibility of establishing a long-term elderly care system in China.
"While a long-term care system is a common strategy to cope with an aging population, such a system has yet to be put in place in China," the paper commented.
In China, children traditionally take on the responsibility of caring for their relatives as they enter their twilight years. However, this practice has become increasingly difficult for many in recent years.
"Long-term care was not in question in the past because families used to have more than one child. However, with more and more single-child households, it has become impractical for families to take care of their elderly members," Wu said.
China is expected to support 40 million disabled or care-dependant elderly people by 2015, according to an official estimate cited by Health News.
At of the end of 2010, the number of partially- and fully-disabled elderly people amounted to 33 million, or 19 percent of the total aged population. The number of people over the age of 80 swelled from 4 million in 2000 to 18.9 million in 2009, a 25-percent increase.
In contrast, a sharp decrease in the total number of households and the rise of "empty nest" families have made it difficult to provide adequate care for the expanding elderly population.
Official statistics state that the average household size shrank from 4.4 people in 1982 to 3.13 people in 2005. "Empty nest" households, or those in which elderly relatives are left to take care of themselves, are estimated to account for more than 50 percent of the total number of households.