On June 6, a saddening and heartbreaking tragedy took place in Hong Kong, as an 80-year-old man strangled his chronically ill and disabled wife to death and then turned himself in to the police.
It is believed he committed the crime because he could no longer handle the stress of taking care of the 76-year-old woman, who had been confined to a wheelchair after suffering a stroke about three years ago. The incident once again raised public concern about the lack of support for old and ill couples in our society.
As our population continues to age and the number of nuclear families continues to grow, more and more old couples have to take care of themselves because their grown-up children have either moved out or are working long hours.
It is hard enough for old couples to take care of each other in their daily lives, but it would even be harder if one of them, or both of them, are chronically ill.
In particular, taking care of one’s spouse who has suffered a stroke or come down with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is especially stressful. As a result, many of those who have to take care of their sick wives or husbands are suffering from depression themselves.
At present, when stroke or AD patients are hospitalized, they and their families would receive help from medical social workers, who would continue to follow up on their cases and provide support for eight weeks after the patients’ discharge from hospital.
However, the help and support these patients and their families receive is often focused predominantly on daily living care such as delivering meals on wheels, while their emotions, mental well-being and stress issue are rarely taken care of.
To address the issue, I strongly suggest that the Hospital Authority enhance the current 8-week support program for stroke or AD patients by introducing psychiatric nurses, who can pay home visits to patients on a regular basis in order to monitor and assess the mental status of them and their family members.
If the psychiatric nurses notice that the elderly have shown signs of depression or other mental conditions, they can then refer them to public mental clinics for treatment.
Meanwhile, the government should divert more resources into enhancing eldercare in our city such as providing in-home assistance service for the elderly, and increasing the number of places in public nursing homes in order to shorten the average waiting time.
Authorities should also provide daytime care services for sick seniors so that their spouses can take a break and their children don’t have to worry about their parents when they are at work.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 15
Translation by Alan Lee
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