… when I’m 64? That may or may not be on a distant horizon to you, but for Shanghai, the graying of its population poses a real challenge to society.
One of the more serious problems presented by this situation is the status of caregivers. A current report (in Chinese) about professional caregivers came on the heels of an open letter, written by an anonymous caregiver of elderly patients, that describes not only how difficult and tiring their work is, but also how vastly underpaid and underappreciated they are. The report states that some make as little as 500 RMB a month (they pay up to 35 percent to the hospitals and often pay for the meals they feed the patients), but “luckily” some of them don’t have to pay rent, because since taking care of elderly patients is a 24 hour job, they just sleep next to or near the patients.
Part of the nurses’ responsibility is to help the patients turn over in their beds. One nurse, called “Little Liu”, once had to help an old lady turn over 27 times in one night. Needless to say, “Little Liu” hasn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in a long time.
And that’s not the worst of it (don’t read this part while eating lunch): “Little Liu” once fell asleep only to be waken up by the moaning of an old man in pain. This old man hadn’t gone No. 2 for four days and was clearly in pain. “Little Liu” administered some medicine, put on a glove and pulled out several hardened pieces of feces. She then discovered that her glove had broken in the process and spent a whole 10 minutes scrubbing her hands with soap, finishing the whole ordeal at 4 in the morning.
Of course, the problem of the rapidly graying population of Shanghai is exacerbated by the fact that the people who normally take care of old folks — their kids — now number less because of the one-child policy. So just what is the extent of the problem? As of about a year ago, about 9.12 percent of the Yangtze River area was comprised of people age 65 and over. Using 65 as the cutoff age, by 2030 the percentage of “old people” in Shanghai will reach about 28.8. On the whole, China’s gray population has already exceeded, as a proportion of population, that of Holland, the United States and New Zealand.
While 2030 is still a good ways off, in the Jing ‘An District (静安区) the percentage of people over 60 is already 22.34 and growing. By the time the gray population peaks between 2030 and 2040, Shanghaiist will be just about ready to join those ranks. (And suddenly, we have the urge stop writing and go drinking … alone).
Any job where the pay sucks, the benefits are nil, and the work day is 24 hours, 7 days a week, is not about to have people beating down the door to apply for. Hopefully this problem will receive some attention before 2030, or else it’s going to be Leisure World or bust for Shanghaiist.
Photo of elderly lady in a Shanghai nursing home by Peijin Chen.