HKUST Alumni - Winter News 2015 - page 9

HKUST Alumni News 2015
The HKUST Edge
number of individuals surveyed up to around
17,000 people. “We started with age 45 so we
can get information before retirement age, to
help us understand the aging process,” says
Prof Park. “We follow the same people over
time, but with each wave we bring in younger
people so we can have a representative
sample of those age 45 and older each time.
Attrition rates are modest, usually about 10%
each time.” A second wave took place in
2013-14, and the third is currently underway.
When the ndings of the rst wave were
released, they garnered plenty of attention
from the international media, with some
startling headlines. “The key in uential nding
uncovered in the rst wave was that the
elderly in China are very vulnerable across
multiple dimensions, and their poverty rate
is higher than for younger people,” says Prof
Park. “Their physical health is very poor when
compared with elderly in more advanced
countries. They also are more likely to show
elevated symptoms of depression, affecting
40% of the elderly population; for women only
it rises to 48%.”
He notes that these outcomes re ect the
fact that people aged 60 and over grew up in
a poverty-stricken environment, lived through
dif cult historical periods such as famine
and war, and were poorly educated. “The
situation will improve for the younger cohorts,
of course, but even though China is now
richer, the early impacts have affected these
elderly people and nothing can make up for
this.” A large percentage of the elderly have
physical health limitations.* As the country has
developed, health issues have shifted from
infectious diseases to chronic conditions.
“We found that to a large extent, there is an
under-diagnosis of chronic diseases, such as
hypertension. These ndings point to the need
for more screening and prevention.”
Physical health has a huge effect on mental
health, as does to a lesser extent education
and income levels. “Women suffer from higher
levels of depression thanmen because they are
less educated and may have not been treated
as well as men in poor communities,” says Prof
Park, adding that the gender gap will reduce as
the country becomes more developed.
In examining family relationships and
support, the survey found that the maxim of
East Asian families “taking care of their elderly”
was something of a myth. “For some older
people, especially the poorest, assistance
does play a role, but generally the amount
of material support from children is limited,”
he notes. “Older people in rural areas don’t
spend much on healthcare even though they
are less healthy– either the elderly themselves
don’t want to waste family resources on their
health, or their children don’t want to.”
Prof Park and his team intend that, like
the pioneering US Health and Retirement
Study, CHARLS will run inde nitely. “With
advancements in technology and survey
methods, we will be able to include more
innovations in the survey,” says Prof Park.
“We de nitely want to study dementia in more
depth; currently mental health issues in China
are at an early stage of understanding as is
the design of policy responses. One of our
partners is the Center for Disease Control
under the Ministry of Health.” Last year, the
group completed a massive survey of the life
histories of all of the respondents, and Prof
Park is looking forward to the results, “This will
make it possible to do some very interesting
research – these elderly people have gone
through tumultuous changes politically,
socially and economically.”
Any dif culty with daily activities
Need help with daily activities
Body pain
Poor self-reported health
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