HN readies healthcare for aging population

September 28, 2018 - 09:00

There is a Vietnamese saying about parents’ care-giving: “When young, one relies on one’s father, and when old, one relies on one’s children”.

Elderly patients wait for their turn to register for health check-ups at the Geriatric Department of Đống Đa General Hospital in Hà Nội. With a rapidly aging population, Việt Nam needs to improve healthcare services for the elderly. — VNA/VNS Photo Dương Ngọc
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI — There is a Vietnamese saying about parents’ care-giving: “When young, one relies on one’s father, and when old, one relies on one’s children”.

It is believed that Vietnamese people in their old age should live with their children under one roof to receive their offspring’s care. Taking care of parents is also a sign of piety. Today, however, as grown-up children lead busy lives and pursue ambitious careers in cities far from their hometowns, many old people are left lonely.

A recent national survey on the Vietnamese elderly shows a decline in the number of old people living with children. The number of old people living alone has increased sharply.

Việt Nam has had an aging population since 2011. About 10 per cent of the population was over 60 years old in 2011. This figure is forecast to double to 20 per cent in 2038.

According to a National Geriatric Hospital survey in 2016 of 610 people aged over 80 in Hà Nội’s Sóc Sơn District, every elderly person has been infected with 6.9 illnesses during the course of their old age. As many as 33.6 per cent of the interviewees had lost their husband or wife while 8.2 per cent live alone and only 17.7 per cent live with their partner.

At the same time, they bear the burden of illnesses, especially dementia.

Professor Phạm Thắng, director of the National Geriatric Hospital, said that more and more people contract the disease when they get older.

Dementia results in behavior disorder and negative impacts on the elderly person’s life such as a decline in the ability to express their thoughts, changing emotions, loss of direction and time, and paranoia.

Nguyễn Thi M. and Nguyễn Ngọc L. are elderly patients being treated at Military Traditional Medicine Hospital in Hà Nội. The two old women who share the same room have different circumstances.

With three sons and daughters, Nguyễn Thi M. chose to live alone at her own 100sq.m house in Cầu Giấy District, as she feels it is hard to get accustomed to the living style of her children and grandchildren while living with them under one roof.

Nguyễn Ngọc L. lives with her daughter in Đống Đa District but the daughter usually has to be away on business, leaving the old woman alone with the worry of getting sick each time the weather changes.

Nguyễn Thị Túy from Hà Nội’s Hoàn Kiếm District said that the elderly should have sympathy for their children and should try to find ways to live independently.

Spending time on taking care of parents, the children might not have time for their babies and themselves, and might be deprived of opportunities at work, she said.

Warm roof

To improve the quality of elderly nursing care, Hà Nội’s authorities have launched a project entitled “Taking care of the elderly in the 2017-25 period”. A number of nursing homes have been built with diversified care services in response to the aging population.

One of the first nursing homes offering caring services in the capital city is Bách Niên Thiên Đức geriatric centre in Bắc Từ Liêm District.

A small number of old people staying here are not married. The majority have children but for many reasons, they chose the nursing home to stay to enjoy their old age.

Seventy-nine-year-old Nguyễn Thị Tâm in Đống Đa District, who has three grown-up children, decided to sell her house and use the money to pay for services at the nursing home where she receives attentive care.

Phạm Thị Tuyết Hằng and her husband in their 80s used to live with their son in Japan but they had to work all day. The old man, 83, has Alzheimer’s and often got lost so they decided to come back to Việt Nam and chose a nursing home.

“The services here are well attuned to healthcare needs. Whenever we get sick, we only need to ring the bell to call for the help of staff,” Hằng said.

Each old person staying here has a healthcare document so that staff can keep track of his/her health. The elderly join exercise, message and occupational therapy sessions every day. They also receive traditional medicine therapies and together take part in clubs like dancing or poem-writing.

Nguyễn Văn Tân, former deputy head of the General Office for Population and Family Planning under the Ministry of Health, said that developing a nursing home model for the elderly remains a difficult task because a common belief still persists in Vietnamese people’s minds that sending parents to nursing homes is not culturally suitable and that parents should be surrounded by their children when they get old.

Building nursing homes for the elderly is a necessity but not all of the elderly people can afford the services. Diversification of services is necessary to meet the demands of old people, he said.

Comprehensive solutions

According to deputy head of Hà Nội’s Health Department Hoàng Đức Hạnh, not many city-level hospitals have geriatric departments. There are several elderly caring models at the community level but they remain small and have not met demand. Meanwhile, elderly people’s income remains low and the number of old people in need of care is increasing.

The project “Taking care of the elderly in the 2017-25 period” of Hà Nội looks to build a city geriatric hospital, geriatric departments and train geriatric doctors. The city will also pilot an elderly healthcare model in the community.

Accordingly, the city’s Geriatric Hospital will be developed from existing Đống Đa Hospital. Geriatric departments will be established at Thanh Nhàn, Saint Paul, Hà Đông, Bắc Thăng Long, Vân Đình and Sơn Tây hospitals.

All remaining district-level hospitals must allocate a certain number of beds for old patients.

Each district or town of the city is expected to have one elderly healthcare centre operating in the daylight with investment from the private sector as part of the project.

Lê Hưng, director of Đống Đa General Hospital, said that besides geriatric departments at hospitals, more occupational therapy areas should be constructed. More medical staff trained to care for old people should be mobilised at these facilities.

By 2025, the city aims to have at least 95 per cent of old and ill people get access to healthcare services and 85 per cent of the elderly have regular health check-ups at least one time per year.

Tạ Quang Huy, head of Hà Nội’s Department of Population and Family Planning, said that improving nursing services for the elderly in response to the needs of an aging population must be done immediately.

“We need to take into account relevant solutions so that all of the old people can get access to the services, improve their health, enjoy their life and live longer,” he said. — VNS