70% of Elders with Emigrant Children Suffer from Social Isolation and Depression
HKCS Advocates Strengthening Community and Technology Support
In recent years, Hong Kong society has experienced various separations and departures. Elders face life changes and mixed emotions when their children emigrate to other countries. In order to understand the needs of elders with emigrant children and advocate appropriate services, Hong Kong Christian Service (HKCS) conducted the ‘Survey on Service Needs of Elders with Emigrant Children in Hong Kong’ from November 2022 to February 2023. Through a questionnaire survey of 203 elders, HKCS found that 36.0% of elders had children who had emigrated in or after 2020, of whom 63.0% of the children were their ‘primary caregivers’. The survey also found that elders with emigrant children experienced poorer social life and emotional health than those without emigrant children.
All respondents are Hong Kong residents aged 50 or above who do not live in residential care homes. 50.3% of the respondents were aged between 60 and 74, and over 67.5% were retired. Assuming that 25 years old is the age at which children are born, the children of these respondents are currently aged between 35 and 49.
Results and Analysis
1. High Risk of Social Isolation and Worsening Physical and Mental Health
- Using the ‘Lubben Social Network Scale’, the survey found that 79.5% of elders with emigrant children are at ‘high risk’ of social isolation, which is 33.3% higher than elders without emigrant children. 69.9% of elders with emigrant children felt ‘lonely’ as a result of their children's emigration.
- Using the ‘Geriatric Depression Scale-4’, the survey found that 69.9% of elders with emigrant children were prone to depression, which is 34.5% higher than elders without emigrant children.
- After their children’s emigration, about two fifths of elders with emigrant children reported that their memory was getting worse (42.5%), they experienced more insomnia (41.1%), their daily expenses were affected (39.7%), and they reduced leisure activities such as shopping and going to the Chinese restaurant (38.4%).
2. Positive Parent-Child Relationship Helps Elders with Emigrant Children Adapt to Life Changes
- 69.9% of elders with emigrant children said that the relationship with their emigrant children before their emigration was ‘good’ or ‘very good’. It is found that when the parent-child relationship was better before emigration, the elders would experience less loneliness and higher levels of happiness after their children's emigration. HKCS stated that children who have a good relationship with their parents generally have better communication and preparation with the elders before and after emigration, which helps the elders adapt to life changes.
3. Using Technology with Community Connections to Overcome Loneliness
- When faced with children's emigration, the three most effective coping methods considered by elders with emigrant children are learning to use new communication technologies to stay in close contact with their children in distant places (56.8%), expecting to take care of themselves (51.9%), and building relationships with local groups to access resources to solve everyday problems (48.8%).
- The three most desired support measures for elders with emigrant children are psychological and emotional support services (42.5%), mutual aid group for elders with emigrant children (32.9%), and elderly re-employment services (27.4%).
- Ms Lee is 83 years old and has six children. She used to live with her third daughter, Ms Chow, but Ms Chow emigrated to Singapore in late 2022, leaving Ms Lee to live alone. Before she left, Ms Chow helped her mother to reduce hazards at home, such as replacing the gas cooker with an induction cooker, and taught her how to use video calls so that they could stay in touch after Ms Chow emigrated. Since the daughter’s departure, Ms Lee has to manage her own medical appointments and day-to-day matters, such as paying utility bills. Currently, staff and members of the elderly centre would visit Ms Lee regularly. Despite the sadness of letting her daughter go, Ms Lee is happy for her daughter's new life. She said, 'I hope I can stay healthy so that I can take care of myself, but I also hope to get some help with day-to-day matters like repairing my furniture.’
- Ms Lau is 72 years old and her husband Mr Wan is 75 years old. Mr Wan has mild cognitive impairment and Ms Lau has mobility problems and uses a wheelchair. In January 2021, their only daughter, Ms Wan, emigrated to Australia. Prior to her departure, Ms Wan actively contacted medical social workers, discharge support service social workers and elderly centre social workers to arrange various care services to support her parents' lives in Hong Kong. After emigrating, Ms Wan continues to have daily video calls with her parents and maintains close communication with the social workers who support her parents in Hong Kong. She also regularly orders daily necessities for her parents online and asks her friends in Hong Kong to visit her parents. Ms Lau believes that being able to see her daughter through video calls gives her a sense of relief. Although Ms Wan has planned for her parents' care, she said, ‘I hope the community can provide more support services tailored to my parents and other elders, such as more social opportunities and reminders about scams, to inject positive energy into their lives.’
Based on the above survey results, HKCS has identified ‘early preparation’, ‘relationship with children’ and ‘community connection’ as the three most important factors affecting the health of elders with emigrant children and proposes the following recommendations:
- Providing Pre-emigration Support Services
To provide support services for families who plan to emigrate, including psychological counselling, financial or re-employment arrangements for the elderly, care plan arrangements, mutual aid groups, to encourage emigrant children to prepare early with their parents before emigration.
- Establishing a Neighbourhood Support Network
To develop a neighbourhood support network, using the power of the neighbourhood to provide ‘life support services’ to the elders in need, solving their everyday problems and enabling them to live in the community with peace.
- Making Good Use of Information Technology to Support Elders
To provide IT support and training for elders to improve their IT skills, such as establishing online communication channels with emigrant children, and using instant messaging software to seek help.
Wilson Yung, Centre-in-charge of the Shun Lee Neighbourhood Elderly Centre of Hong Kong Christian Service (HKCS), said, ‘the number of elders with emigrant children in Hong Kong is increasing, and there is a need to provide specialised services for this group of elderly to help them adapt to the life after their children have emigrated. HKCS will launch the “Community Helper - Support for Elders with Emigrant Children” in August this year to strengthen the support for this group of elderly. In addition, HKCS has also created the “5 Self-Care Tips for Elders with Emigrant Children”, providing guidance for them to address with their children's emigration.’
‘5 Self-Care Tips for Elders with Emigrant Children’
- Be open and honest about your expectations
- Establish remote communication channels
- Get to know the resources in your community
- Develop hobbies and interests
- Plan your personal finances
For media enquiries, please contact:
Mr Don CHENG, Corporate Communication Executive (Information) (Tel: 2731 6263 )
From left: Don Cheng, Corporate Communication Executive (Information), Jackie Chan, Research & Advocacy Officer, Wilson Yung, Centre-in-charge of the Shun Lee Neighbourhood Elderly Centre and Ms Lee, HKCS’s service user
During the pandemic, Ms Lee seldom saw her children, who live in Hong Kong.
‘Community Helper - Support for Elders with Emigrant Children’ includes hotline services and the training and matching of volunteer.