written by Yvonne Witter
Preparing for aging: it’s not just Dutch people who occupy themselves with it. Just like the Netherlands, Hong Kong is home to an increasing number of old people. They live in cramped apartments, in those narrow, sky high buildings that the vertical city of Hong Kong is well known for. In 2005, The Hong Kong Housing Society founded the Elderly Resources Centre (ERC) in order to inform the elderly, caregivers, volunteers and students on living independently for as long as possible. They do more than just spreading awareness though: the elderly can also undergo a ‘screening’.
In this centre they replicated the small apartments of Hong Kong. ’Because of the relatively high population density that emphasises the vibrant and busy character of Hong Kong, but also results in incredibly high prices for places to live .Social workers, volunteers and therapists help the elderly people that come here. ‘’Older people can come here and try out various tools and technological gadgets,’’ according to Sabrina Li, manager of ERC. ‘’I tell them what to pay attention to in their houses when it comes to security, accessibility and comfort.’’ She, for instance, shows us a bed that can be rolled out of the wall, so it takes up less space during the day. ‘’A family member can sleep here. The next day you can just roll the bed back to the wall again.’’ Li calls it a ‘’hidden bed’’: a European idea. She also shows us an automatic medicine dispenser, so the older people can’t overdose.
Sabrina is radiating enthusiasm about the centre. Rapidly she shows me different places, even including one with information about living with dementia. In Hong Kong, a third of the people over 85 suffer from a form of dementia. And, since the demographic pressure of old people is increasing, so is the number of people with dementia. The decorating of living rooms includes an high awareness of colour schemes. Sabrina points out the windows in the apartment: ‘’we have rods because people with dementia may throwing things out of the window.’’ We also provide the caregivers who work with people with dementia with advice on how to make schedules for the day, and some other practical things: not hanging up clothes next to the bed (they can get scared of them at night) and not using trivets that are common in Hong Kong: those can be really confusing. A big problem is that many people with dementia live on their own. Some people can afford a household servant, someone that helps them, usually from Indonesia and the Philippines, but many others can’t afford those. Old people often don’t have a high-level retirement provision.
In the Netherlands we have a couple of smart homes as well, of which the iZi experience apartment in the Hague is the most expanded one. But here in this ERC: the screening that I mentioned earlier, includes old people being able to get their bone mineral density tested, as well as their vision, their equilibrium and their mental health. Old people will, afterwards, get a list of advice with them: if the test says their hearing is bad, they’ll adjust their advice according to that. Some of the results might come as a surprise for some older people: they didn’t notice their vision was that bad! Sometimes physical decay goes unnoticed. They will also be adviced on food, disease prevention and physical exercise and movement. The ERC employees, a mix of professionals and volunteers, will give older people specific advice on adding adjustments. But that’s where their job ends: it’s up to the older people to decide what to do with it. Next year the ERC will undergo renovations. ‘’You should visit again by then. It’s only getting better.’’