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Ageing society

‘Care homes not the answer’: Housing Authority urged to help Hong Kong’s elderly ‘age in place’

  • Scheme launched by another major public housing provider in 2012 should serve as model for authority to help residents spend final years at home, academic says
  • Organisation’s low-rent estates are home to 36 per cent of the city’s elderly population
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 November, 2018, 11:48am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2018, 1:43pm

Hong Kong’s biggest public housing provider must do more to help the elderly on low incomes live out their days at home instead of in care facilities, a scholar says.

Professor Terry Lum Yat-sang on Friday said the Housing Authority should better facilitate “ageing in place”.

The organisation’s low-rent public housing estates are home to 36 per cent of the city’s elderly population.

The non-profit Housing Society, Hong Kong’s second-largest provider of public-sector homes, already had an Ageing-in-Place (AIP) Scheme which could serve as a model, said Lum, from the University of Hong Kong’s department of social work and social administration.

Lum said he had evaluated the society’s AIP scheme and found it effective. It was introduced in 2012 and covers 20 low-rent housing estates and 13,000 elderly tenants.

“If the government or the Housing Authority can adopt something like the Ageing-in-Place programme, we could help about 36 per cent of the older people in Hong Kong remain in the community,” Lum said.

He was speaking at an international conference on housing and urban planning organised by the Housing Society on Friday.

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Under the AIP programme, the society teams up with welfare organisations, government departments, health care service providers and academics to provide services on housing estates. These include retrofitting flats to make homes more elderly friendly, networking and rehabilitation services, facilitating physical exercise, training to prevent cognitive decline, and social activities.

Lum said the results of his study showed 30 per cent fewer Hongkongers over 65 living in the society's rental estates intended to check into a care institution in the third year since the AIP scheme was launched. Their use of accident and emergency services had also decreased, by 23 per cent.

Depressive moods were less common, Lum added, having reduced by 36 per cent in the same period.

There were also financial returns, which amounted to HK$4.80 for every HK$1 invested.

“We have way too many elderly people in institutional care,” Lum said. “The figure is way beyond those of developed countries.”

According to Lum, about 7 per cent of Hong Kong’s elderly people live in nursing homes, compared to 3 per cent in Canada and the United States, and 2 per cent in Singapore.

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Housing Society chief executive officer Wong Kit-loong said the AIP scheme had been the “most rewarding” among all the society’s programmes aiming to improve living conditions for the elderly.

Anthony Chiu Kwok-wai, a Housing Authority member and executive director of the Federation of Public Housing Estates, agreed that the authority needed to learn from the society.

“The Housing Society is doing a better job on this front,” Chiu said.

The Housing Authority had improved its “hardware” such as by installing barrier-free designs at estates, but lagged behind in providing “software”, including estate-based social and medical services, he said.

“I don’t think the elderly leaving home to stay in nursing homes is a good arrangement,” Chiu said. “If they can live in their own neighbourhoods with their friends, they can live more happily and healthily.”

According to the Census and Statistics Department, the number of Hongkongers aged 65 or above will increase sharply from 17 per cent of the total population in 2016 to 31 per cent by 2036, which means one in three Hongkongers will be classed as elderly.

A Housing Authority spokeswoman said the body had adopted a series of ageing-in-place initiatives, such as designs in newly built low-rent flats to cater for the needs of tenants of different ages and physical conditions.

“[With these designs], tenants can continue to reside in the same flat even in old age or when their mobility is impaired,” she said.

The authority had also implemented schemes to encourage younger households to live with or nearby their elderly family members, she added.

The spokeswoman did not directly comment on Lum’s suggestion.