19 Dec 2015

Lets go to China… International Aged Care Summit 2015

Last month I attended the Australia-China International Aged Care Summit in Beijing. The event was held over two days 16-17 November 2015, attended by 150 Australian representatives and 400 local representatives. Day one covered a number of fantastic presentations from both Chinese and Australian speakers (reform of the aged care industry, opportunities to the health and aged care sector, demand on aged care services, opportunities and challenges for cooperation in the aged care sector and then I attended the skill development and training sub forum). Day two included a visit to three sites. Communication was little difficult, I don’t speak Chinese and very few locals spoke English.

Like many countries, China has a huge demand for aged care services. There are 40 million aged people in China and 10 million care givers, the ratio is 1:4. Whose problem is it to look after the elderly? China recently introduced a law “Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly People” which forces adult children to visit and care for their elderly parents. Interestingly in China, it is the responsibility of the son to take care of his parents. Therefore if a family has ten children and only one son it would be the son’s responsibility. In the more urban areas where the one child policy is in place, it is the responsibility of that child. This year (2015) the one-child policy was abolished and now married couples can have two children. This could be partly due to the ongoing needs to provide care to the parents, as they age. During my trip I interviewed 14 members of the community who said that they were an only child and had the responsibility of looking after their parents as well as their in-laws. Those individuals expressed great difficulty in coping with caring duties as well as maintaining employment. Residential care is uncommon in China. There is a lot of stigma associated with it and families mainly take care of their loved ones.

The visits to aged care facilities demonstrated different level of care available to older people in China. At the high the option is to live in serviced apartments which resemble a five star hotel, or at a low cost older people can live in a residential setting – with its own on-site medical centre, gardens, arts and craft and music. I interviewed a CEO of one facility, who mentioned that all applicants had a medical assessment to determine their suitability to live on site. The CEO reported that the individuals had to be in good physical health, some memory impairment was acceptable but that a mental health condition would exclude the applicant from entering the site – as they may present as a risk particularly if they have suicidal tendencies. This response made me question the role of psychologists in China and particularly in aged care. Depression and anxiety are treatable conditions and common co-morbidities with declining health. There certainly is room for improvement for mental health and wellbeing of Chinese elders.

Here are some photos from the trip.

Local Park

Aged Care Summit

Visit to a high end retirement village

Empty corridors at a residential aged care facility

Art room

Games room

Outdoor gym

Gardening (fertilising in winter)

On-site medical centre

Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment Room

I concluded my visit to China with an invited presentation at Renmin University. I presented my research on emotional contagion in home care setting to post-graduate psychology students.

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