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Ageing society

Hong Kong elderly are badly in need of comprehensive care policy

Latest family tragedy once again raises questions as to whether those who look after aged relatives receive sufficient treatment and support

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 October, 2017, 4:42am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 October, 2017, 4:42am

It is a sad and all-too-familiar story, a son with a mental condition is suspected of murdering his bedridden mother before jumpingfrom their flat in a suicide attempt. The family tragedy, the third of its kind in eight months, was greeted with the same old pledge from the government – a review of the relevant support services. Sympathy and promises aside, we need to ask more critical questions. Why do such deadly dramas keep happening?

Who cares for the carers? Third killing this year raises alarm in Hong Kong

Police are expected to find out more from the 34-year-old man, who survived the leap from the 16th floor. He is a psychiatric patient, whose condition was described as “stable’’ at a consultation 11 days before the incident. The family’s two live-in domestic helpers have also been interviewed.

Questions have been asked as to whether the tragedy could have been prevented. While much has been said about the services for the ailing and disabled, the pressure on carers is often overlooked. If the man’s condition is linked to nursing his ailing mother, it has to be asked whether he has been given sufficient treatment and support.

The government was quick to point out that there was no record of the family applying for home care services – seen by critics as a way to excuse itself of responsibility. Officials may think they cannot be faulted when families in need of help do not come forward, but the truth is that many are currently deterred by the long queues for public or subsidised residential care places. It is further compounded by the shortage of carers and other management issues. It is therefore not uncommon for family members to keep their ailing elderly at home, sometimes with the assistance of domestic helpers with little experience in such care.

Will increased community support solve Hong Kong’s strained elderly care services?

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor may today pledge greater commitment to care for the elderly in her first policy address. This includes giving the terminally ill the choice of spending their final days at home instead of in a care centre. The government has set the right tone by planning to expand temporary day care services to help relieve the burden on carers. But as the population ages, the problem may well worsen. That makes a comprehensive care policy for the elderly all the more important.