A win-win for young and old living together

A pilot project at one of Hangzhou's biggest nursing homes gives qualified young people cheap accommodation in return for helping improve elderly residents' lives and health.

Hangzhou’s Binjiang District is recruiting young people to live in one of its biggest nursing homes, offering cheap accommodation in return for voluntary help and giving elderly residents some lively company.

Sunshine Home near Baima Lake rents out 14 rooms with independent bathrooms for just 300 yuan (US$44) a month — far below the market rate — and at least 20 hours of volunteer work a month.

The exterior view of Sunshine Home


Yang Yunhai owns a calligraphy and ink-wash studio in Xixing Town. To qualify for his cheap rent, he runs weekly 90-minute calligraphy classes at Sunshine, patiently coaching his elderly neighbors holding a ink brush and writing simple Chinese characters.

He even assigns homework, and the class is popular.

Before moving into the nursing home, Yang shared a rental apartment with friends. He says living here is win-win for everyone — young people have a cheap home and the elderly get entertainment, company and activities.

Lin Qin’s mother-in-law lives at Sunshine.

“Entertainment activity here is beyond my expectations,” she said. “It changes the stereotype of retirement homes in my mind.”

In addition to the calligraphy class, volunteers also spend time with the elderly, teaching them how to use a smartphone, chitchatting, reading, strolling and going with them to hospital appointments.

“Their company adds more dynamic vibe and laughter to our community. The old people’s life content is enriched and the generation gap gets narrower,” said Xu Haiying, vice director of Sunshine Home.

Senior residents learn how to hold a ink brush and write simple Chinese characters at Yang Yunhai’s calligraphy class.

Binjiang was flooded with applications when it launched the project last year. It finally selected 14 people under 30. They hold at least a bachelor’s degree, having been working in the district for at least a year, and did not have an apartment.

If they get married or buy an apartment, they must give up their room.

“We evaluate every young person’s voluntary service every month. They have to leave if disqualified,” said Wang Kai from Sunshine Home. “More volunteers will be recruited to match the bigger senior group in the future.”

Since the central government combined senior care with medical services in 2016, Binjiang has invested more than 500 million yuan to establish this top-notch nursing home. It serves as a pilot for social security reforms.

Like state-run retirement homes, Sunshine is subsidized by the local government, but operated commercially by Zhejiang Lukang Medical Care and Senior Service Co. 

It integrates daily care with medical treatment, recovery and palliative care. At present, the nursing home has about 2,000 beds, a hospital, a cafeteria and a multi-function center.

 The elderly play pingpong at Sunshine.

Senior residents are assessed by a team of doctors, nurses, a nutritionist and other caregivers before being accepted.

The evaluation result determines a specific living zone and diet. The nursing home is divided into ordinary retirement flats, a recovery zone for incapacitated and Alzheimer’s sufferers and palliative care buildings.

It is hugely popular, despite being more expensive than other nursing homes — 3,000-6,000 yuan a month, depending on the room and the level of care needed.

Smart monitoring keeps real time track of residents’ health and whereabouts.

China is growing old fast. People aged over 60 accounted for 16.1 percent of the population in 2015. That is forecast to more than double to 35 percent by 2050.

To deal with the demographic shift, governments are taking a new approach to retirement homes and working more closely with professional organizations. 

The innovations at Sunshine Home are expected to be applied to other facilities in Hangzhou.

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