The priorities of healthcare in Hong Kong are explored here, with a special focus on the delivery of elderly health services in the country
According to the Department of Health of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the pursuit of health is essential for the overall development of the community, as well as the well-being of the individual citizen. The Department of Health is the government’s health adviser and agency to deliver health policies and statutory functions and as such, it plays a key part in the country’s healthcare system. Dr Chan Hon-yee, Constance, JP Director of Health from the Department offers her thoughts on the health care priorities of Hong Kong.
“We safeguard the health of the people of Hong Kong through promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative services as well as fostering community partnership and international collaboration.
“We are committed to providing a quality client-oriented service. We also attach great importance to fostering partnership with the community and other health care professionals and bodies, both local and worldwide, in the joint effort to promote the health of the people of Hong Kong.” (1)
Elderly health services
By way of background, it’s worth noting that The Elderly Health Service consists of 18 elderly health centres and 18 visiting health teams. (2) Their mission is nothing but providing quality primary health care services that promote the health of their elderly population. (3)
This analysis will focus on an aspect of the Department’s work, the Elderly Health Service which provides primary health care to the elderly, which, in turn, improves their self-care ability, encourages healthy living and strengthens family support in order to minimise disability and illness. The services offered include:
- Public health & administration
To analyse and collect information on the elderly’s health status in Hong Kong to provide a timely health intervention programme.
- Elderly health centres
The elderly health centres in the country seek to detect diseases earlier and identify health risks to enable timely intervention and prevention of complications. Those aged 65 or above can enrol as members of elderly health centres, where they are provided with a health assessment, counselling, health education and curative treatment services.
- Visiting health teams
Visiting health teams deliver health promotion programmes free of charge in the community to increase the elderly’s self-care ability and health awareness. By making use of the train-the-trainer approach, visiting health teams provide training programmes for carers to improve health knowledge and skills when it comes to caring for the elderly. (4)
The ageing and elderly healthcare landscape in Hong Kong
The Elderly Health Service is of the opinion that ageing is a necessary stage in life, indeed with an optimistic attitude in place they believe that one can live a fruitful life and enjoy their later years.
An important point to add here is that the elderly in Hong Kong who require help with their daily lives is on the rise. As such, we know it is really important that caregivers apply the proper skills of ‘lifting and transfer’ to avoid repetitive strain injury. Of course, this approach instils a sense of security in the elderly person and ensures a smooth and safe transfer. This approach is vital when assisting the elderly with everyday tasks such as getting up from bed or transferring them to the wheelchair or with toileting. (5)
Other areas on the website are extensive and include issues such as healthy ageing, mental health, self-care, home safety plus common health problems such as bones and joints, cancer, dementia and diabetes to name a few. If that was not enough, there is even a very helpful section for carers, with useful details concerning dementia care, swallowing and diet, wound care and stress management, amongst many others.
Taking one of these areas, let’s focus now on a common health problem, osteoporosis, which is a metabolic disease of the bone that results in a reduction in bone density. Certainly, the affected bones become thinner and are more likely to break (fractures) which may result in pain and other complications, including a loss of independence.
While osteoporosis produces no symptoms on its own, if an osteoporosis-related fracture occurs, there may be localised pain over the fracture sites. An osteoporotic fracture often includes the site of the thigh bone near the hip joint, spine (vertebrae) and the forearm close to the wrist. While hip fracture may occur after a minor fall, the spine can fracture without any associated trauma. In addition, a vertebral fracture can result in a decrease in body height, a hunched-back and sometimes, back pain. The website of The Elderly Health Service also provides further details in this vein, such as tips on what to do if you are suffering from osteoporosis and if it is preventable. (6)
Low back pain (LBP)
Looking at another highlighted area, we know that low back pain (LBP) today is a very common medical problem. While there are many causes of LBP including injuries, diseases and degeneration, poor posture accelerates degenerative changes of the spine, so the importance of proper posture cannot be emphasised enough. Certainly, good posture helps to prevent unnecessary fatigue and injuries that can occur when the body is not in proper alignment. Those who suffer from LB should see a doctor, who can assist with individual treatment plans and can, of course, identify a specific source of the pain.
Staying on this topic, we know that the central portion of the back is composed of a bony spinal column surrounded by muscles and ligaments. Tips include standing, which is quoted below but you can also find out more about sitting, lying and many other areas in this vein. We also learn here that appropriate exercise helps to maintain general fitness and back health.
“While standing, keep your body straight with ears, shoulders and hips vertically aligned. Your shoulders should not be rounded inwards or tilted forwards. Your hips should not be flexed or hyper-extended. Tuck your abdomen in. Make sure your chin is not held too high and your head is not dropping. Use your abdominal muscles to keep your chest lifted and your back supported.” (7)
The importance of activity
Finally, let’s look at just one of the many areas highlighted on The Elderly Health Service’s website that concerns activity. Here, we learn that activities are an integral part of our lives and become more important for the elderly who find themselves with more leisure time after they retire.
Some elderly people think that they might be too old for joining activities but taking part in them can provide many benefits like becoming healthier by taking part in physical activities, such as tai chi, as well as dancing and swimming which both benefit coordination, mobility and cardiopulmonary function. Another example is cognitive training, which can include playing computer games, chess or board games that can improve cognitive reserve and exercise the brain.
It is said that activities like going to restaurants, singing and watching movies can help older people to express their emotion and relieve anxiety, which of course, makes them feel better. It’s well worth a look at the Ministry’s additional tips for engaging activities that the elderly can take part in, such as group activities, learning new things or promoting and maintaining ability in self-care. Let’s leave the last word to The Elderly Health Service who explain how confidence can be increased in this valued and important group of people in society.
“Participation in voluntary work can increase confidence and offer sense of satisfaction. Elders can choose to participate in activities, such as calligraphy, painting, handicrafts according to their own interests, through which, they can make good use of their creativity and talent.” (8)
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