Tackling social isolation among the elderly

Subject: health services, diseases control and prevention, elderly isolation

Tag Cloud
Tackling elderly isolation in Hong Kong
Experience in tackling elderly isolation for overseas places
Bridging the digital divide
Creating living environments conducive to intergenerational connectedness
Promptly harnessing remote/technological innovation for elderly care
Concluding remarks
Prepared by Jennifer LO
Research Office
Information Services Division
Legislative Council Secretariat
3 March 2022

  1. Loneliness refers to the subjective feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact. Social isolation, by contrast, is the objective state of having few social connections and can often lead to loneliness in some people. See World Health Organization (2021).
  2. Ibid and see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021) and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2020).
  3. Ibid.
  4. See City University of Hong Kong (2021) and Lingnan University (2020).
  5. In 2020, Hong Kong recorded 438 suicides among people aged 60 or above, representing an increase of 4.8% from 2019. This group also saw the highest suicide rate across all age groups – with nearly 22 people died of suicide per 100 000 population. See The Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong (2021).
  6. See GovHK (2021) and 民建聯(2018).
  7. See Gov.Scot (2018), Gov.UK (2015) and Queensland Alliance for Mental Health (2021).
  8. See for example World Health Organization (2021) and Day et al. (2020).
  9. It is estimated that by 2039, one in three persons in Hong Kong will be aged 65 or older, up from the 2019 level of about one in five being an elderly. See Census and Statistics Department (2020).
  10. The latest round of population census was conducted in 2021, but the results have yet to be released. See Census and Statistics Department (2018).
  11. Ibid.
  12. In the study, mental health of the elderly was measured in terms of their psychological well-being. See Chinese University of Hong Kong (2018).
  13. See Jockey Club Age-friendly City (2020).
  14. Other initiatives include the launch of a digital learning portal and provision of over 100 free training courses for 3 200 elderly people to acquire new digital skills since 2019. See Innovation and Technology Bureau (2021).
  15. See The Hong Kong Jockey Club (2021).
  16. Government data in 2020 showed that 31.9% of Hong Kong's 1.4 million elderly persons (aged 65 or above) did not have a smartphone. Compared with 2018, it has dropped by 10.9 percentage points from 42.8%. See Census and Statistics Department (2021) and 香港經濟日報(2021).
  17. Under the "Priority Scheme for Families with Elderly Members", Home Ownership Scheme applicants choosing to stay with elderly family members in the same purchased flat will be allocated priority in flat selection, subject to a quota (which was set at 2 100 flats in 2020). As for public rental housing ("PRH") applicants, those opting to live in one flat or two nearby flats to take care of their elderly family members can have their waiting time shortened by six months under the "Harmonious Families Priority Scheme". Based on the average waiting time of six years for PRH general applicants (including those applying with elderly family members) as at end-December 2021, applicants under the Priority Scheme would still need to wait over five years to be allocated a flat. Meanwhile, existing PRH tenants can apply for transfer to the same estate where their elderly parents/children currently reside for mutual care.
  18. For example, the only multi-generational housing project launched by the Hong Kong Housing Society so far is the Harmony Place, which comprises only 60 elderly rental units and 214 flats for sale. Meanwhile, a private multi-generational housing project involving 1 500 units are reportedly under construction. See Hong Kong Housing Society (2020) and 信報(2021).
  19. The Government has a policy of providing community care services ("CC Services") to help the elderly age at home or in their own communities (as opposed to in unfamiliar settings e.g. nursing homes and hospitals), partly due to the perceived benefits of CC Services on mental and physical health. CC Services are not just provided at centres but also at home for frail elders to cover services such as personal/nursing care, escort and meals delivery. For detailed analysis on CC Services, see Legislative Council Secretariat (2021).
  20. See Lingnan University (2020) and 香港01(2020).
  21. See Infocomm Media Development Authority (2021b).
  22. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of Singapore residents aged 65 or above who lived alone rose 44% to reach 67 600, which represented 11.6% of the elderly population. In 2019, there were 400 reported suicide cases in Singapore, of which 122 cases involved people aged 60 or above (i.e. 14 cases per 100 000 elderly population). See Ministry of Health (2021).
  23. See Gov.sg (2020).
  24. It should be noted that this programme is partially backed by government funding and contributions from community and corporate organizations (e.g. telecom providers), as well as support from volunteers (e.g. the digital ambassadors are comprised of both full-time staff and volunteers). See also Infocomm Media Development Authority (2021a).
  25. To be eligible, one must (a) be at least 60 years old; (b) be recipients of selected government assistance (e.g. public rental housing tenants); and (c) have learnt at least one basic digital skill through the Seniors Go Digital Programme.
  26. See Infocomm Media Development Authority (2021c).
  27. Each token has a unique QR code and works by exchanging Bluetooth signals with other tokens or mobile phones running the TraceTogether app nearby. To check-in upon visiting a venue, users can simply have their token's QR code (printed at the back) scanned at the venue. See Government Technology Agency (2020).
  28. See University of Hong Kong (2019).
  29. Singapore has priority schemes for various groups. For example, the Multi-Generational Priority Scheme allows married children and their parents to get two new Build-To-Order HDB flats in the same precinct (e.g. same floor of a building). The Senior Priority Scheme gives priority to eligible elderly to buy a two-room HDB flat to live near their married children (within four kilometres).
  30. The grant is halved for singleton buyers. See Housing and Development Board (2022).
  31. See Today Online (2021) and Data.gov.sg (2022).
  32. In Germany, it is estimated that the number of people aged 67 or above will grow by 22% from 16 million in 2020 to 20 million in 2035. A separate survey conducted during COVID-19 showed that one in four older adults (aged 50 or above) reported feeling lonely. See Statistisches Bundesamt (2021) and European Parliament (2021).
  33. Living for Help is usually coordinated by universities, often in collaboration with local governments and other organizations. For example, the programme in Cologne is a partnership between the University of Cologne, the city's housing office and elderly representative group. See AARP (2017).
  34. Ibid and see Legislative Council Secretariat (2021).
  35. Adults aged 18 or older are eligible to apply for the matching service, but at least one of the match-mates must be aged 60 or older. See New York City Department for the Aging (2022) and New York Foundation for Senior Citizens (2022).
  36. See Official Website of the City of New York (2018) and New York City Department for the Aging (2019).
  37. See 明匯智庫及大舜基金(2017).
  38. The action plan covers more than 70 initiatives in 12 areas to help the elderly age healthily and actively. See Ministry of Health (2016).
  39. The project was sold as HDB's Build-to-Order flats in 2014. See Centre for Liveable Cities Singapore (2020).
  40. See Chan (2021).
  41. See United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (2009).
  42. See Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (2021).
  43. See Hudson et al. (2020).
  44. See New York State Office for the Aging (2021) and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2020).
  45. Established in 1975, the New York City Department for the Aging is a dedicated government department tasked with supporting the elderly and their caregivers, and combating ageism.
  46. These tablets are distributed through local elderly centres, with priority given to those who live alone, lack access to digital devices and are active participants interested in attending virtual programmes. See New York City Department for the Aging (2021).
  47. Since October 2020, New York City Department for the Aging has introduced a programme called Friendly VOICES, which trains and matches volunteers to connect remotely with the elderly who are socially isolated during COVID-19. Elderly participants also have the option to be matched with a peer close to their age or join a small virtual group. See New York City Department for the Aging (2020a, 2020b).

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