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LCQ3: Measures to improve social isolation among elderly
     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Kin-por and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun, in the Legislative Council today (April 19):


     The findings of a study show that the number of long-lived elderly people in Hong Kong has increased drastically, with the population of centenarians increasing from 1 890 in 2011 to 11 575 in 2021, representing an increase of more than six-fold. Moreover, compared with the data of 10 years ago, various negative emotions of the elderly have increased in recent years, and about one third of the long-lived elderly have even experienced social isolation (i.e. having contact with less than two relatives or friends in a month), affecting their physical and mental health. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has reviewed the trend in the number of cases of elderly people seeking assistance due to psychological stress arising from the epidemic in the past three years; if the trend is upward, how the Government tackles the problem;

(2) apart from meeting the basic needs of living of the elderly, of the measures in place to thoroughly address the social and emotional needs of the elderly, especially the problems that arise from elderly living alone; and

(3) whether it will consider stepping up efforts to promote the application of gerontechnology in order to facilitate the elderly to have greater access to technology, so that they can better adapt to the development of modern technology, such as learning to connect with their relatives and friends by way of video calls, thereby preventing them from being socially isolated and enabling them to enjoy a long and happy life in their twilight years; if so, of the details?



     The Government attaches great importance to the mental well-being of the elderly as well as the general public, and adopts an integrated and multi-disciplinary approach to provide services to those in need. Meanwhile, active ageing is one of the key policy objectives of the Government for elderly services. To this end, the Government has been encouraging the elderly to stay active and integrate into the community through community support services and different subsidy schemes. Having consulted the Health Bureau, the Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau and the Housing Bureau, my consolidated reply on behalf of the Government is as follows:

(1) In terms of healthcare services, the multi-disciplinary team of psychogeriatric services of the Hospital Authority (HA) provides in-patient, out-patient, day rehabilitation training and community support services to elderly persons in need. In 2020-21 and 2021-22, the number of psychiatric patients aged 65 or above treated in the HA were about 70 800 and 76 100 per year respectively. For 2022-23, as of December 31, 2022, the number of patients was 80 500.

     As for community support services, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) provides counselling, referral and emotional support services, etc. to elderly persons at the district level through 213 subvented elderly centers across the territory. In 2020, 2021 and 2022, the total number of counselling cases handled at the elderly centres were 33 473, 35 967 and 34 108 respectively.

     The HA and the SWD do not maintain a breakdown on number of cases where elderly persons sought assistance owing to psychological stress arising from the epidemic.

(2) The Government has adopted a multi-pronged approach to assist elderly persons in addressing issues associated with living alone. In terms of elderly mental well-being, the Government has been providing support through promotion, prevention and early identification, etc. For example:

(i) $300 million has been earmarked for rolling out the Mental Health Initiatives Funding Scheme. A total of 26 projects specifically for the elderly have been approved under the Scheme, involving around $45 million in funding. These projects comprise the provision of outreach support, face-to-face or online counselling as well as escort services for elderly persons, with a view to encouraging them to seek help in a timely manner whenever in need;
(ii) A recurrent annual funding of $50 million has been earmarked to embark on ongoing mental health promotion and public education, so as to enhance public knowledge about mental health and encourage the public in need to seek help in a timely manner. Examples include the rolling out of the "Shall We Talk" initiative and the production of programmes related to elderly mental distress; and
(iii) Promoting mental health of the elderly through the Department of Health's Elderly Health Service, such as setting up a dedicated webpage "Together, We Fight the Virus" during the epidemic to provide practical health advice for the elderly on how to stay active and healthy.

     As for supporting ageing in place for the elderly, elderly centres across the territory have been identifying and reaching out to hidden and singleton elderly in the course of their outreach work, where elderly persons are encouraged and assisted to build up their social life. District Elderly Community Centres have set up dedicated support teams to visit and provide simple personal assistance to elderly persons, with a view to expressing care and building mutual trust. Other community care service units also reach out to elderly persons in need and co-organise recreational and social activities with other organisations to help elderly persons age in a familiar neighbourhood. Furthermore, the Government subsidises different organisations to carry out programmes to promote intergenerational harmony, assist elderly persons to widen their social network, and unleash their potential under the Elder Academy Scheme and the Opportunities for the Elderly Project.

     On public housing, the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HKHA) has put in place a series of schemes on harmonious families to encourage the younger generations to take care of their elderly parents/dependent relatives and reside with them. The HKHA also collaborates with non-governmental organisations to provide various elderly support services in public housing estates and assist elderly persons to seek assistance from the relevant agencies. During the planning of Public Housing Developments, the HKHA adopts the concept of "Community Play" with a view to creating recreational spaces that can be used by users of different age together, promoting harmony and inclusiveness, thereby enhancing their sense of belonging to the community.

(3) The Government is committed to promoting digital inclusion and assisting the elderly to experience, learn and utilise digital technology products and services, so as to broaden their social circles and integrate into the community. In this regard, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) has been implementing an array of relevant programmes, such as:

(i) The ICT Outreach Programme for the Elderly to visit elderly persons across the territory and encourage them to make greater use of technology through non-profit-making organisations and their service networks; and
(ii) The Enriched ICT Training Programme for the Elderly to provide free enriched training courses to elderly persons with basic knowledge of digital technology. Upon completion of the training courses, the elderly participants may even act as teaching assistants to help their peers in understanding and using technology products and services.

     Furthermore, the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund has funded four projects aiming to promote intergenerational digital inclusion, which aim to encourage young people to help the elderly increase their understanding and application of digital technologies, and at the same time foster intergenerational harmony. These projects are expected to benefit more than 3 700 elderly persons. Furthermore, the Government will expand the coverage of Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly to rental of assistive technology products in the third quarter of this year, in order to enhance the frail elderly's quality of life and reduce the burden on their carers. The Government will also expand the service scope of over 200 elderly centres across the territory to promotion of gerontechnology in the fourth quarter of this year.

     The Mental Health Initiatives Funding Scheme mentioned above also subsidises and assists elderly persons who are in lack of financial and family support to use mobile devices, so as to facilitate them to stay connected with the society during the epidemic and provide them with an additional channel to seek help when needed.
Ends/Wednesday, April 19, 2023
Issued at HKT 12:03
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