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China Expects Communities to Take More Care of Elderly People
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China is encouraging communities to provide services for the elderly, as pressure grows on retirement homes and individual families.


"Community services can be easily organized in neighborhoods where residents have friendly relations and tend to help each other," said Guo Ping, deputy director of the China Research Center on Aging.


He suggested communities set up special teams to pay regular visits to the elderly at home, offering cleaning, laundry and medical care services.


According to Guo, there are now more than 143 million Chinese seniors aged over 60. They represent 11 percent of the country's total population and account for half of the total grey population in Asia and 20 percent worldwide.


But only 1.2 million beds are available in China's 380,000 retirement homes. In other words, there are only 8 beds for every 1,000 elderly people, far less than the 50 to 70 beds in developed countries.


Some elderly people, with only small pensions, cannot afford retirement homes, which may charge 1,300 yuan to 1,600 yuan (US$165-200) per month.


Seniors left at home feel the "nest is empty" with children too busy with their work or moving to other cities.


"The community can give them day care or even offer around-the-clock services, which will free them from loneliness and help solve their difficulties," said an official surnamed Li in Beijing's Yuetan neighborhood committee office.


His neighborhood has put together files on all the elderly people over 60 and appointed special service teams to provide them with medical care and nursing.


"Our team members also read books and newspapers to them, and accompany them on shopping trips and to hospital. Clubs in the community also offer them free classes on calligraphy, painting, English language, singing and knitwork," Li said.


Though charged a moderate sum, the elderly are happy to accept these services in a familiar neighborhood they have lived in for decades, he said.


Deeply influenced by the traditional value that children should support their elderly parents and guarantee them a happy life, many Chinese seniors are reluctant to leave home and live in retirement homes.


However, with many Chinese families now having a "four parents, one couple and one child" structure, young people are shouldering a heavier burden supporting the elderly.


Experts recommend that senior citizens live at home and be taken care of by their communities. It is a solution that suits China's situation and its traditions.


(Xinhua News Agency August 23, 2006)

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