Hong Kong's women and men enjoy the longest life expectancy in the world according to data released this year, yet the suicide rate among older adults is relatively high—three in every 10,000 older adults choose to end their lives prematurely each year.

In fact, the elderly suicide rate is 10 times the youth suicide rate and when compared to European and American countries, the rate in Hong Kong is two to three times higher. There are a number of factors that play a role in influencing an older adult's decision to commit suicide. About half the suicide victims suffered from depression. With the rapidly ageing population, is there a solution to stop the suffering of older adults living in Hong Kong? 

According to projections by the Census and Statistics Department, older adults will account for 30% of the population in Hong Kong by 2041. If the Government does not improve the hardware and software at the community level, older adults will not be offered an opportunity to continue leading an active and independent life due to insufficient support, hence the rapidly aging population will pose a huge challenge to society. To tackle the problem, Our Hong Kong Foundation proposes the creation of an age-enabling city, allowing everyone, regardless of their age and ability, to celebrate their fabulous lives.

Developing healthcare services with the community

Hong Kong people suffer from mental stress due to work pressure, cramped living conditions and poor quality of life. The average Hong Kong person may boast the longest life expectancy in the world but older adults living in the territory may not have much to celebrate; as they get physically weaker, they may worry about becoming a burden on their family in their old age. In order to create an age-enabling city, we should not only focus on how to live longer, but also ways to improve our health and ability to live independently. Recent government measures only focus on providing more nursing homes to shorten the waiting list. However, the key to tackling the problem is a comprehensive community rehabilitation network for older adults. 

To meet the rising demand for healthcare services, it is essential to increase the number of hospitals and manpower in the healthcare sector as well as develop a comprehensive primary care development strategy for the long run. At this moment, our healthcare and social welfare services are not well coordinated or allocated. Though we spend a lot of money, we have not received satisfactory results in return. The Foundation is now promoting the concept of a network that promotes health, which aims at providing one-stop community health services to older adults in order to effectively manage their health and enhance their ability to live independently.

Improved facilities to meet needs

Hong Kong is hard to get around in a wheelchair as there are many barriers that bar disabled people from moving around. Narrow pavements, staircases, push doors, short crossing times at traffic lights and ill-thought-out disabled toilets make the city far from barrier-free. Due to insufficient community facilities, mobility-impaired older adults may lose the motivation to go out. Even though some of them are capable of working, they prefer staying at home because the environment is not designed for them.

Despite boasting a well-developed transportation network, Hong Kong does not have an adequate public pick and drop service for mobility-challenged older adults. It is certainly wasteful if they cannot participate in the community and contribute to society simply due to difficulties in getting around the city.

Family care improves mental health

As people age, there are significant changes such as decreasing physical fitness which can affect social habits, and the lack of community facilities compounds the problem. In addition, Hong Kong people fail to spend much time with their elders due to long working hours. With reduced communication and social interaction, coupled with a loss of identity, older adults are at risk of depression.

If our city can provide a supportive environment that provides safe travel, advanced technology for older adults to lead an independent life, together with flexible working arrangements for the younger generation to devote more time to caring for their elders, older adults can improve their mental health by reframing their lives and getting care from family. In fact, some studies have found that Hong Kong's older adults no longer look for material comforts, instead they prefer to receive more care and attention from family, which is actually the key for better mental health.

Estimating the needs of changing demographics

Despite the Government showing great determination to create an age-enabling city by examining many initiatives on social facilities, medical and long-term services, the public does not know much about the short-term and long-term policies for caring for elders because those policies are inconsistent and not comprehensive. In fact, stakeholders of each and every sector including the Government, business sector and civil society will need to collaborate for a comprehensive age-enabling policy that covers everyone's interests.

In order to create an age-enabling city, in addition to encouraging public participation on population policies, the Government is suggested to use Big Data to analyse the future needs and lifestyle of the population by collaborating with external research institutions. When a person's contribution is recognised, the person would be more willing to engage more in the community. We should create a laughter-filled city without any hidden seed of depression, allowing everyone to enjoy their lives—this is the real meaning of prosperity.

Special thanks to Chief Editor of Our Hong Kong Foundation, Ms Amy Liu