Hong Kong must decide how best to care for the elderly living alone

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 9:25pm

The government is exploring the feasibility of subsidising the elderly living alone in public rental flats to hire a domestic helper to provide round-the-clock care for them.

That is certainly music to the ears of many Hong Kong citizens. Indeed, domestic helpers have been instrumental in relieving the burden of caring for the elderly at home so that citizens can earn a living and contribute to the Hong Kong economy.

Take my 89-year-old grandfather’s case as an example. He had his right leg amputated from the knee down in June because of a bacterial infection. A domestic helper had been hired to take care of him even before the surgery, owing to his ailing health and decreased mobility. Following the operation, he has become ever more reliant on the helper.

My grandpa has been worried that she would leave Hong Kong once her contract expires, and was relieved when she agreed to stay on for two more years. My aunt is living with my grandpa, but she has to work long hours to cover the daily expenses.

She herself is battling diabetes and has little time and energy left to care for my grandfather. The deep-rooted belief that children are duty-bound to care for their parents is common in a Confucian society like Hong Kong, but my aunt, owing to her circumstances, finds it hard to fulfil her filial duty without hiring a domestic helper.

The hardships and helplessness faced by single elderly living in public housing flats are understandably even more severe.

With the city’s ageing population, it’s only natural that more households need to employ foreign domestic helpers to take care of the elderly at home.

Children of senior citizens may have moved out once they have started their own families, so the demand for such helpers will keep increasing. The long waiting time for community care services for the elderly deprives those in need of the timely assistance they so desperately need.

While discussions on the pilot scheme are in the early stages, I firmly believe it is the answer to the age-old question of giving the elderly the help they need.

Jason Tang, Tin Shui Wai