HONG KONG: There’s a short flight of steps leading to their house.
But to 73-year-old Pun Sum Wing, it takes some effort getting his wife, a wheelchair user, around. So he built a wooden ramp, complete with rubber strips, to wheel her in and out of the house.
It’s a steep incline and his wife, Law Mui, needs assurance. Mr Pun gently comforts her and within a few moments, they’re home.
Mrs Pun has dementia and is unable to move on her own, so Mr Pun bathes and feeds her. It’s a familiar routine; one that the couple has been following for most of the past decade.
“It’s my responsibility to take care of my wife. I don’t want to bother my children as they’re working and need to take care of their own families,” he said.
Mr Pun is among a rising number of elderly caregivers in Hong Kong.
According to a recent study, 60 per cent of caregivers are at least 61 years and above, and almost 45 per cent of them care for seniors aged 81 years and above.
The study by Carer EPS, a local platform that caters to caregivers, surveyed more than 1,600 respondents from August 2020 to January this year.
WHEN THE CAREGIVERS NEED CARING
The social shift may be expected in the ageing city, but when the caregiver needs caring, it can be hard to cope.
When Mr Pun found out that he was sick, he wanted to end both his and his wife’s lives, making them part of the statistics.
Hong Kong’s elderly suicide rates hit a record-high last year at 446 cases, accounting for 44 per cent of the city’s overall suicide cases.
“I was diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer just as my wife’s situation turned serious. I was so worried that I couldn’t take care of her anymore, so I thought of committing suicide with her,” Mr Pun said.
“Later I realised that I couldn’t decide for her, because she’s unable to express herself.”
Beyond the stress of caregiving, Mr Pun is suffering from isolation, worsened by the pandemic.
“Since the pandemic started, I have no social life at all. I’m afraid of bringing back the virus home to my wife,” Mr Pun said, echoing the anxieties of many in his age group.
Turning to old age residential homes isn’t a viable alternative either.
During Hong Kong’s fifth COVID-19 wave earlier this year, outbreaks and deaths in these homes deterred families from admitting their loved ones there.
“Families are also concerned about the restricted visiting arrangement, when they apply for a spot in a care home,” said Ms Grace Li, chief executive of Altru Nursing Home.
“If we don’t allow them to visit in person, they’d rather stay home and take care of their loved ones themselves regardless of how exhausting it is.”
DEMAND FOR RESPITE CARE SERVICES
More caregivers like Mr Pun are signing up for day care services instead.