Listen to #Hashtag Hong Kong every Sunday morning at 8.15
Focussing on issues affecting civil society, we'll hear from representatives of NGOs, associations, statutory bodies, and non-profit groups.
(Sundays 8.15am - 8.25am)
As the population ages, more people find caring for their elderly loved ones falling on their shoulders. While the population of Hong Kong increased only by 5% between 2011 and 2021, the population of centenarians, people aged 100 or more, increased by more than 6 folds.
In light of the rapid increase in the population of adults of advanced age, say nonagenarians and centenarians, in collaboration with The University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Shue Yan University, The Hong Kong Council of Social Service recently conducted the second round of the Hong Kong Centenarian Study (with the first round taking place in 2011) with 151 families and found that most caregivers of centenarians are their children, with many of them being between 65-74 years old (43%).
This phenomenon of “the elderly caring for even older seniors” is common in Hong Kong. It poses significant challenges, including physical fatigue, emotional stress, social isolation, and financial burden, adversely impacting caregivers’ health and well-being.
The biggest challenge faced by elderly caregivers is physical and mental fatigue. Caring for a loved one requires a lot of strength and energy, which can be even more taxing for elderly caregivers with health issues. They may have to frequently lift or support a frail loved one, provide assistance in daily living, and perform other tasks that can strain their bodies continually.
Emotional stress is another challenge, particularly when caring involves complex or arduous needs. For example, tending to a loved one with dementia or other cognitive impairments requires infinite patience and constant attention, which can be frustrating and overwhelming. Many caregivers wish to see their older loved ones through and are motivated to provide as much care to their older relatives as possible. Despite such high motivation to care, their strains may elevate to a point where their mental and physical health is compromised, which is when nursing home placements are considered.
Caregivers may also feel isolated and burnt out, as they often have to sacrifice socialising with friends and family or their interests. This can spiral into depression and anxiety, further exacerbating their struggles.
The financial burden is another challenge that elderly caregivers may grapple with, especially those who are retired and living on a fixed income. In other words, their financial resources, whether from their own children or governmental subsidies, are often shared with their older loved ones. The study mentioned above showed that 83.2% of caregivers had a monthly income below $30,000, and 70.5% of respondents earned below the poverty line of $20,000 for a 4-person household (CSD, 2020). 48.3% of caregivers expressed financial pressure.
So, what can be done to aid elderly caregivers facing these problems? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Seeking out community resources, including respite care, support groups, and counselling services. Elderly caregivers should also reach out to family and friends for help, as small gestures can make a big difference.
2) It is also essential for caregivers to prioritise their health and well-being by taking time for themselves, pursuing hobbies and interests, or getting mental health support when needed. Caregivers who look after themselves are better equipped to watch over their loved ones in the long run.
3) Sometimes, it may be necessary to hire a professional caregiver to assist with the needs of a loved one. With the advance in technology, some products help, such as fall prevention equipment and health-monitoring smart devices. Caregiver subsidies or financial subsidies for using Gerontechnology in the community would help.
Taking care of an elderly loved one can be arduous and emotionally draining, particularly for caregivers themselves, seniors. By seeking out available resources, asking for help from family and friends, being mindful of self-care, and appraising professional assistance, elderly caregivers can get the support they need to navigate the challenges and provide the best care possible for their loved ones.
And now I have a song I'd like to dedicate to all of you listening. My song is: You’ve Got a Friend by Carole King