China’s geographical vastness and the distinct social and cultural dichotomy—between metropolitan and rural areas—that comes with it, has a great effect on the health of the ageing population of the nation. In regards to the differences—the opportunities and limitations—of living within the respective regions of the country, with the elderly in rural communities at a clear and incredible disadvantage to those living within the country’s main cities (Yuan 2010).
Photography by Nathan VanderKlippe. Available here.
The traditional approach to aged-care in China is for children to “care for their parents through old age, as demonstrated in the Chinese expression yang er fang lao, meaning ‘raise children to provide for old age’” (CSIS n.d), as opposed to “letting care centers do the job” (Li 2011). As a result of this deeply-rooted traditional value, only a small amount of government funding is directed towards aged-care. However, China now has to deal with the reality of potentially having too few children to support (physically and economically/financially) the rapidly aeging population. (Li 2011). Additionally, there has not been a significant shift or ‘popularisation’ of “health education and promotion of healthy behaviours…among the elderly Chinese population, both in urban and rural areas. (Yuan 2014). Consequently, of the 202 million elderly people living in China—as of 2013—basic knowledge about health is quite low (Wang 2014), according to findings by the Chinese Ministry of Public Health, the 65–69 year olds having the lowest health literacy (3·81%) of all the age groups (CSIS n.d).
But how might these limitations imposed upon the elderly demand a solution, or provide opportunities for innovation in the health-care and aged-care fields? With an estimated 23% of the elderly in China unable to take care of themselves (CSIS n.d), the opportunity for increased service demands in three main sectors: the health sector, the product market, and infrastructure. The ageing population of China is generating a strong market for “healthcare professionals who can ensure the delivery of quality services…[such as] home care, assisted living…and new tools, like electronic health records.” (Li 2011). However, aside from the obvious demands to health services of an ageing population, the market for elderly-centric products “as easy to operate home-appliances and digital products” (Li 2011) is set to boom. This ageing market may ultimately develop an increased understanding of the the importance of diet and nutrition on individual health, opening up the market for products such as ‘Cholesterol reducing foods’ and ‘anti-aging products’. Given that more than 57% of China’s population is within rural areas (Yuan 2010), the infrastructure not only within the urban areas, but also the rural sectors will need to be updated, and re-considered to accommodate the increase rates of elderly patrons; “once their material needs are satisfied, older people will want their free time to be filled with more entertainment and leisure activities…[which] will thus likely boost demand for…[places] that provide entertainment and knowledge [and] senior focused service industries” (Li 2011).
Image author unknown.
This possibility that lies within the Chinese and wider global market for aged-care is particularly exciting for sectors such as design, providing the interesting challenge of how to incorporate modern technological advancements, cultural sensitivity, health, and traditional lifestyle factors into innovative and unprecedented methods of assistive aged-care, within an rapidly developing context.
CSIS. n.d. Does China have and Aging Problem?. China Power. viewed 30 October. Available at < http://chinapower.csis.org/aging-problem/>
Li, M. 2011. The Impact of China’s Aging Population. SERI Quarterly.
Wang, X., Chen, P. 2014. Population ageing challenges health care in China. The Lancet, vol 383, issue, 9920, pp 870.
Yuan, Z., He, X. 2010. Aging population and health inequalities in the rural areas of China. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.