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The difficult old age of the intellectually disabled

Reporters: Agnes Ng, Edith Lin, Total Lam

Editors: James Fung, Charlene Kwan

Once Hong Kong residents reach the age of 65 years, they can apply for a Senior Citizen Card and enjoy various benefits, such as cheaper fares on public transport. On their 70th birthdays, they can receive Health Care Vouchers to pay for some health services. However, those with intellectual disabilities may never have the chance to enjoy these benefits.

The biological functions of the intellectually disabled begin to decline from the age of 45. As the aging process is accelerated, they may die before they are entitled to services and benefits aimed at the elderly. Therefore, various concern groups, including the Ageing Intellectually Disabled Concern Group, are fighting to redefine old age for the intellectually disabled so that they can have a better quality of life in their final years.

What makes things more difficult is that as the intellectually disabled enter old age, their carers (who are often their parents or other family members) are also getting older and becoming less able to cope with the increased physical and emotional demands of taking care of them.

In improving services to the intellectually disabled, the government has allocated more resources in the policy address. The funding for hiring more staff at residential care homes and day training centres has increased from HKD 67.9 million in 2013 to HKD 93 million in 2014. However, Wu Shing-choi, Member of the Ageing Intellectually Disabled Concern Group, doubts whether it will be used properly.

Since the funding to the organizations is a one-off lump sum payment, Wu points out organizations receiving it, such as those providing residential services, tend to focus on administrative work rather than truly serving the intellectually disabled.

There are at least 7000 intellectually disabled waiting for a few hundred places in the residential care homes per year. Those with moderate intellectual disabilities have to wait more than five years. Even worse, the severely intellectually disabled have to wait for 10 years.

To shorten the waiting time, the government has launched the Pilot Bought Place Scheme to purchase places from private residential care homes that meet the government’s requirements. Still, they fail to meet the needs of the disabled. For instance, they do not have adequate staff to take care of each resident with intellectual disabilities and lack facilities for physical therapy.

At long last, there seems to at least be some awareness of the special needs of the intellectually disabled, and their carers, as they age but there is still a long way to go.