'Bath assistants' serve elderly with a soothing experience

"Bath assistant" has emerged as a popular new occupation in major Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing.

Having a warm bath can be a big challenge for the elderly, particularly those with disabilities. As a result, "bath assistant" has emerged as a popular new occupation in major Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing.

Bath assistants sometimes drive vehicles on which the elderly can be given a nice bath regardless of whether they reside in the center of the city or in the countryside, while some even provide door-to-door service and use professional tools to serve the disabled elderly with a comforting bath.

China has about 264 million people aged 60 or above, accounting for 18.7 percent of the country's total population, according to data from the seventh national census released in 2021. Chongyang Festival, or Seniors' Day in China, falls on Tuesday this year.

In 2018, the Chongqing Charity Federation, Chongqing Pension Service Association and Chongqing Sanxintang Elderly Service Co., Ltd. jointly launched the "Bath Express" initiative to provide free bathing services for senior citizens suffering from varying degrees of disabilities.

Each "Bath Express" vehicle has three bath assistants, one of whom is responsible for driving the car, measuring the elderly's body temperature and carrying out other physical assessments, while the other two bath assistants mainly help the elderly take a nice bath.

Long Surong, 44, has been working as a bath assistant with Chongqing Sanxintang Elderly Service Co., Ltd. for nearly three years. She said it is quite a challenging job.

"Changing your mindset is the first step. Many people will feel embarrassed bathing others, but I imagine myself as the child of the elderly, which makes it feel like I am taking care of my own relatives," Long said.

Liu Minhua, 88, has been living alone in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality since her husband passed away 15 years ago. "If I fall in the shower, no one will know," Liu said, adding that when sometimes neighbors drop by, she will take a shower while the neighbors are chatting in the living room so she can get help in case of any unforeseen circumstances.

The "Bath Express" initiative has solved Liu's problems to a great extent. Each time prior to the arrival of the vehicle, community workers would inform the elderly to schedule an appointment in advance. For each service, two bath assistants help the elderly to get into the vehicle and change. After adjusting the water temperature, the bath assistants will chat with the elderly while helping them with bathing and hair washing.

After the relaxing bath, they also help the elderly shave, trim their nails and hair, and change clothes.

"Some senior citizens burst into tears the moment they sit in the bathtub. They would say with sadness that they haven't taken a bath for seven or eight years," said Long, adding that after the 30-minute bathing session, some elderly would cling to her hands and ask when she would come again.

"Every time an elderly person hugs me after a bath and expresses gratitude, my resolve to continue working is strengthened," she added.

To date, Chongqing's 10 "Bath Express" vehicles have provided services in communities and villages in 27 districts and counties.

To further promote and popularize bath assistance for the elderly, the Chongqing government plans to formulate standards for such mobile bath assistance services in the future.

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