China’s population is aging at a rapid pace, and its health is deteriorating just as fast.
By 2030, it is estimated that an additional 14 million elderly Chinese will show a severe inability to perform several daily activities, and will therefore require more care according to a new study published Monday in the medical journal The Lancet Public Health. The number of the elderly with difficulties performing such daily activities — ranging from dressing, bathing, and feeding to cooking and shopping — will increase by 31% in a decade to 59.3 million in 2030.
The proportion of older people in need of care declined between 2011 and 2020 due to improved education levels, advances in age-friendly living environments, and more access to medical care. Nevertheless, the rapidly expanding older population will likely lead to a notable increase in the number of senior Chinese people with care needs by 2030, said the study.
“Rapid aging of the population could offset the decline in dependency and result in a substantial increase in the population with complex care needs,” the authors of the study noted. “Promoting healthy aging and investing in an age-friendly environment are important in reducing care burdens in China.”
The new study, which covered 46,619 people and claims to be the first of its kind to delve into the issue, highlights the urgency for China to improve its care system for seniors amid a rapidly aging society. By the end of 2021, people aged 60 and above accounted for about 19% of China’s total population, with the demographic estimated to grow to over 30% around 2035.
The research also noted that women, rural residents, and the less educated, as well as those living further from healthcare centers and without access to toilet or tap water, tend to rely more on care from others.
China’s aging crisis is posing a challenge to the country’s already strained care system. To cope with the situation, authorities launched a long-term care insurance scheme in 2016 — it has been piloted in 49 cities so far — which provides subsidies for home-based and nursing home care services.
However, the scheme is yet to be rolled out nationwide and is limited to a small number of the older population in need. Only about 1 million people have used the scheme and received benefits, according to an official report published last month, while about 45 million seniors were incapable of taking care of themselves last year.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: An older woman basks in the winter sun in Beijing, Oct. 10, 2022. VCG)