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Rest homes see holiday changes

By Wang Qingyun ( China Daily )

Updated: 2012-02-01

More elderly would rather stay with peers than go to family get-togethers

NANCHANG - As more elderly people in Nanchang, the capital of East China's Jiangxi province, turn to rest homes for better care, the tradition of Lunar New Year celebrations at family get-togethers is beginning to change.

Zang Jianyuan, 61, head nurse at the Senior Care Center of Nanchang for four years, recalls how residents celebrated the holiday in recent years.

"Relatives of some of the older people would pick them up for a holiday meal together and bring them back by evening. I stood by the gate, watching cars arriving one after another and receiving the older people one by one as they returned.

"Some didn't go out, too. They had family visit them. The home made them dinners to celebrate the Lunar New Year."

Shao Jianying, 49, is one of those who has a traditional get-together with parents outside the rest home.

On Jan 25, the third day of the Year of the Dragon, he brought his mother back to the Social Welfare Home of Donghu District after she spent three days with the family celebrating the Spring Festival.

The 87-year-old mother of four, surnamed Hu, who has lived in the home for eight years, said that her children have often visited her, but that she prefers to live at the rest home. "My children have to go to work. I feel alone staying with them. But here I can visit and spend time with my fellow residents."

Some people choose not to take part in the traditional family reunion.

Su Lingen, 70, who has lived in the welfare home for nearly a year, turned down his family's invitation to celebrate the New Year with them.

"I spent Lunar New Year's Day here, and I enjoyed myself," said Su, a father of three. "My children invited me to stay with them for Spring Festival, but I refused. The rest home gave us a big meal for the celebration, and I had a great time. What's the point of having a New Year's dinner at home and then being sent back?"

Another woman surnamed Hu, 85, also declined her children's invitation. "I have four daughters and a son. They visited me for Spring Festival and asked if I would like to celebrate it in their houses. But I wanted to stay with my roommate, who insisted I stay here. I don't want her to feel lonely."

Hu said her children are very busy, and she hasn't wanted to live with them since her husband passed away. "Me and my friends here are closer than siblings. We live together, eat together and bask in the sun together. You have to cheer up instead of thinking of your children all the time."

Hu Kangle, 74, whose husband passed away, has lived at the home for about five years. The mother of three, who uses a wheelchair, spent New Year's Eve in the welfare home. "My three children all live in other cities. I moved in after I hurt my leg. This Lunar New Year, they talked with me on the phone and mailed me gifts."

Zhou Junjie, who has worked at the Donghu district welfare home for 20 years and is its deputy director, said the home now has 250 residents with an average age of 80. Seventy percent of them need care.

"When I first came here, only about 40 people lived here. The number gradually grew over the years. Now we have three people in each room instead of the originally planned two."

Zhou said the increased number of residents is a result of society's changing thoughts on caring for the elderly as well as the aging population of the city.

The city's last census shows that 9.89 percent of the population is older than 65 in Donghu district, compared with 7.71 percent in the whole of Nanchang. According to the provincial government, Jiangxi residents reached the tipping point to become an aging population in 2005 - an aging population is defined as one in which more than 7 percent of residents are older than 65.

Zhou said these social and demographic changes pose challenges to the welfare home. "The facilities need upgrading. We have more than 40 caregivers, most in their 40s and without professional training. It's hard to recruit young caregivers. The job pays relatively little. So the caregivers are under great pressure."

The lack of professionally trained caregivers is a problem for Zang Jianyuan, the head nurse at the Senior Care Center of Nanchang.

"It's harder working here," said Zang, who used to work in a hospital. "The first year, I had to set rules for most of the caregivers and train them, because they didn't go to college and hardly knew anything about caring for the elderly."

Zang said the center once had some recruits who were about 18 years old and learned caring for the elderly at a vocational school. But they didn't stay on the job, which requires constant focus on the residents' health and a lot of physical labor. "The last one hung on for six months before quitting."

"I hope the national government can better help society get ready for the increasingly aging population, so that the next generation will have an easier time of caring for the elderly 20 years down the road," she said.

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