Across China: Free bathing services bring cleanness, dignity to disabled elderly

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YINCHUAN, April 20 (Xinhua) -- Two years after starting their funeral business, Fan Zhi and Chen Zeying, a couple from northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, decided to offer something new -- helping seniors with mobility issues take a decent bath, free of charge.

"Taking a shower is a luxury for many disabled elderly, and a simple bath can bring them much comfort and dignity," said Fan, 52, who used to be a florist in the regional capital Yinchuan.

After his wife Chen retired from work in a cemetery in 2020, the couple started their funeral service business which mainly involves washing the body of the deceased, trimming their nails, and getting them into funeral shrouds. The cleaning usually takes long hours, as they believe it is a way of honoring the deceased.

The decision to offer bathing services to the disabled elderly came a year ago when Fan cleaned up the body of a departed senior in terrible hygiene conditions.

"I was told that he did not take a proper shower for a long time since he became paralyzed and incontinent. I used three towels to do the cleaning," Fan recalled, deciding to deliver at-home bathing services for the elderly, especially those with disabilities.

To begin with, they spent over 3,000 yuan (about 435 U.S. dollars) on a mobile shower, an inflatable bathtub, a blood pressure gauge, an ultraviolet germicidal lamp, and other equipment. They consulted professionals on how to care for the elderly and simulated the bathing process multiple times before providing at-home services.

At first, the couple charged about 200 yuan for each shower before they realized that many disabled seniors from poor families couldn't afford it. Therefore, they decided to do it for free.

The psychological repellence of the seniors is another problem they have to cope with.

"As some seniors are reluctant to be bathed by strangers, I would hold their hands and chat with them to relieve their anxieties. I just tell them to take me as their daughter, and there is nothing to be embarrassed about," said Chen.

Despite all the difficulties, Chen said it is to her great satisfaction to see the seniors all freshened up and relaxed after the shower. Before leaving, she would always rub her cheek with them affectionately as a goodbye.

From June to October last year, when the room temperature is favorable for the bathing services, over 30 seniors enjoyed a comforting bath thanks to the couple.

Statistics show that by the end of 2021, there were 267 million people aged 60 or above in China, and the number is expected to exceed 300 million by 2025.

According to the plan for the development of the country's elderly care service system from 2021 to 2025, various types of elderly care businesses, including mobile bath vans and at-home bathing services will be supported, and a batch of professional bathing assistance organizations will be cultivated for seniors.

The couple has bigger plans for the future. Fan wants to organize a volunteer team for the free bathing services and apply from the community for a workplace for the services.

Traditional Chinese beliefs consider death and corpses as very inauspicious. People avoid meeting those who work in funeral services. Therefore, the couple believes their funeral business itself also affects the free bathing services to the elderly.

"I hope that by separating our funeral services and the bathing services, the free bathing services will be more accepted by the public," he said. Enditem

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