The secret to active ageing and the Hong Kong businesses cashing in on the trend among city’s elderly

As Hong Kong’s population ages, new services are springing up aimed at improving the elderly’s quality of life, both physical and social, and their mental well-being

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2017, 6:33am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2017, 5:17pm

It’s a Saturday afternoon and the second floor of The Kinnet is buzzing as men and women in sports gear fill their water bottles after an aerobics workout. It’s one of the many classes available at the Sheung Wan wellness centre that focuses on healthy ageing.

Providing services for the elderly is a growing industry, driven by an increasingly greying population. According to UN reports, rich nations are leading the way, but the greying trend is global.

By 2050, the median age in China, now 35, is projected to rise to 49; India’s population aged 60 to 80 will be 326 per cent larger; and nearly a quarter of Brazil’s residents will be elderly, compared with 7 per cent now.

Hong Kong is also getting greyer as the city’s post-war baby boomers enter old age. According to the Census and Statistics Department’s 2016 by-census, released in February, the median age increased to 43.4 last year, from 39.6 in 2006 and 41.7 in 2011. The proportion aged 65 or older rose from 12 per cent of the population in 2006 to a new high of 16 per cent. In 1986 the figure was just 8 per cent.

Earlier this year, the commissioner for census and statistics, Leslie Tang Wai-kong, said a large population above the age of 80 would also put a huge strain on medical and care services. “This is going to be a huge challenge.”

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People are not only living longer, but are looking to age better. This is where The Kinnet comes in, by offering classes for the elderly, from tai chi to circuit training. It also offers nutritional counselling and has a health food restaurant on the third floor (think superfood smoothies and cold-pressed juices). It also fills another more creative gap, helping to dispel widespread belief that creativity is the domain of the young. (Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species at the age of 50.)

Believing that creativity has health benefits, The Kinnet offers a variety of classes, from acrylic painting to porcelain painting, and paper cutting to calligraphy.

Kitman Mak agrees that art plays a vital role as we age. Mak is well known to Hongkongers from the 1970s and ’80s when she juggled a singing and acting career, recording albums for Crown Records and Cinepoly Records. Today, she fills the roles of mother and wife. Another is artist and ambassador for

The Kinnet, where she is showing more than 40 of her works in her exhibition, The Art Show, including Mak’s latest creation – The Four Great Beauties. The exhibition is open between 9am to 8pm daily until April 30.

“Art plays an important role for the elderly – it’s therapeutic and helps calm the mind,” says Mak, as she walks me through some of her works on show.

“Creative arts offer a wide range of health benefits to older adults, including interaction, sense of control, sensory stimulation, relaxation, concentration, and improved cognitive abilities.”

A shining example of why the elderly should stay active

At Shek O’s main beach, it’s almost 6.30 on a foggy morning and a spritely 78-year-old does some quick stretches before heading into the mist and jumping into the chilly waters. A morning dip for Lee (who doesn’t want his full name used) has been part of his daily routine for almost 10 years. A car accident had left him with a damaged hip and concerns about arthritis in old age.

“I get the early bus from Shau Kei Wan almost every morning – it doesn’t matter if it’s cold or hot. The water always lures me,” he says as he joins a bunch of other elderly early morning swimmers.

Take a morning walk through Victoria Park and groups of old people are performing tai chi and other group dance exercises.

Naturopathic physician Monica Xu, from the Integrated Medicine Institute in Central, says the biggest fear among the elderly is not a heart attack, high blood pressure or diabetes, but the fear of falling.

“As we age, we lose our skeletal muscle mass. Our nerve conduction rate slows and we have delayed reflex response to the external environment,” Xu says.

“Many elderly take pills and supplements for their vital organ health, and while these are helpful in managing their declining internal organs, only limited results can be achieved if there’s no regular physical training to improve their gait stability, reflex response, and bone and muscle mass.”

Xu says exercise is key and it must be done with caution, especially for the elderly.

“Not everyone is strong enough to just get up and run. As time goes on, without routine training, our vital organs become less tolerant in handling stress from exercise, especially our heart, lungs, muscles and ligaments.

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Last month, a tailored home care service was launched in the city, filling a niche by providing health care services directly to the home. Called Evercare, it uses a technology platform and targets post-hospitalisation patients, covering prevalent illnesses for the elderly, including both chronic and acute conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, stroke, cancer, respiratory and cardiac rehabilitation.

It fills a vital gap in the market. With Hong Kong’s ageing population, demand for health care services has risen sharply, pushing hospital occupancy rates to record high levels.

Last month, Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man told lawmakers that the occupancy rate in the medical ward at Tuen Mun Hospital between November 2016 and January 2017 was 104 per cent. Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin had the most overstretched medical ward, with an occupancy rate of 116 per cent.

New ideas needed to help Hong Kong elderly cope with their health problems

Having overburdened hospitals means Evercare fills a niche on the health care landscape, filling the gap between long waiting lists, public hospitals and expensive private health care. It is also the first home care provider to offer a digital care platform for family members to stay connected with patients’ progress.

To improve the home-care experience, Evercare also takes into consideration a patient’s interests, language and background, with the aim of matching them with the most appropriate caregiver.

“When I moved back from New York to Hong Kong, I realised there wasn’t a digital platform for family members to get updated about patient’s health conditions,” says Kenneth Wong, co-founder and chief executive of Evercare.

“With Evercare’s digital platform, family members can easily log on to check real-time vital statistics, track health progress, and receive health alerts. We also send a health summary report every two weeks to the family,” Wong says.