Tackling an Age-old Problem

With life expectancies on the rise and birth rates dropping, populations around the globe are ageing at an alarming rate. China’s demographic trends caused by urbanisation and the one-child policy makes this problem particularly acute. According to a 2010 United Nations estimate, the percentage of people over 60 years old in China will increase from 12 per cent in 2010 to 29 per cent in 2040, which means 435 million Chinese over the age of 60. At the same time, the ratio of workingage people to retired people will drop from 2.5 in 2010 to 1.7 in 2040. The Economist calls China’s demographics the country’s Achilles’ heel.

Caring for ageing populations has become a key challenge for governments, healthcare systems and families around the world. Both China’s government and public health system are aware of the challenges and realise they cannot go it alone. Beijing, Shanghai and other cities have promulgated plans that involve 90 per cent of seniors being cared for by their families, with the remaining ten per cent in community healthcare and senior care centres.

From an investment perspective, most attractive are senior care centres, which can cater to the top of the market. These establishments focus on seniors’ physical and social wellbeing, including their physical, mental, social and lifestyle health. Residents have access to nurse aides, as well as physical, occupational, and other rehabilitation services, crucial for those with orthopaedic medical issues such as post-hip replacement. Senior care centres also provide socialisation and recreation. Culturally however, senior care facilities face an uphill battle in China.

The lush environs of these centres notwithstanding, many Chinese are unwilling to relocate their parents at present – though this is changing. Most senior care centres are also unable to provide the breadth and depth of medical care their residents require.

As a result, more and more people in China are turning to home healthcare as chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension proliferate. Long established around the world, home health is new to China. Health professionals provide home medical visits on a regular basis, allowing doctors and nurses to diagnose conditions, perform tests and develop treatment plans to manage medical conditions at home.

Through careful monitoring and planning, home health both prevents the onset of disease and treats diseases once they occur. The system provides convenience and high-quality medical care for seniors and gives families peace of mind. The Chinese government recognised the need for home health as a key part of caring for seniors in its 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015).

As parents and grandparents age, there will be countless governmental and familial debates about how best to care for them. China’s 435 million seniors will have their own preferences and needs. It’s clear that ageing populations will continue to strain our health systems and societies well into the future, but with solid government and societal planning, we can minimise the negative effects.