Senior residents watch a performance in Longmen ancient town of Fuyang in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, Oct. 20, 2020. (Xinhua/Xu Yu)
by Zou Yuqin and Cheng Lu
HANGZHOU, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- For many seniors with mobility issues, a simple shower or bath is a long-forgotten luxury, but not for Yun Hongzhang, 92, thanks to a customized van that provides mobile bathing services.
Equipped with a thermostatic bathtub, cozy reclining chairs, barrier-free facilities and fully trained caregivers, the van has delivered baths for about 800 seniors, including Yun, in various districts of Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province.
Yun lives in a small apartment in Hemu subdistrict, where around 36 percent of registered residents are aged 60 and over, many of them living alone. Taking a shower is something that people often take for granted, but for such elderly residents it can often be quite tricky.
Yun and his wife Wu Meizhen live apart from their adult children. With multiple health conditions and shaking hands, Yun finds it hard to bathe himself.
"I often use a warm washcloth to wipe his back in our bathroom, which is dim and narrow," said Wu, 83. "The mobile bathing service helps a lot."
To help elderly people maintain their personal hygiene, in late 2020, the subdistrict collaborated with Hangzhou-based tech company Jiujiu Zhulao to launch a pilot mobile bathing program, as part of China's efforts to promote elderly care services.
The company spent 400,000 yuan (about 58,767 U.S. dollars) on transforming a recreational vehicle into a mobile bathroom, and hired a bathing assistant with a nursing certificate, a health evaluator and a driver, according to Li Ting, manager of Jiujiu Zhulao.
Before each bath, the elderly client's vital signs are checked, and he or she will be properly covered to maintain privacy and dignity during the bathing process. Seniors can also have access to other services, including haircuts and nail clipping. Normally, a one-hour bathing service costs 199 yuan, while a package of 10 bath sessions costs 999 yuan.
For Yu Liya, a caregiver on the van, her job involves more than just bathing the clients; it is also about providing love and hope. The former barber said that seniors with limited mobility or disabilities rarely take a proper shower or bath at home. They usually make do with a wipe or sponge-down.
"We once met a senior who had not taken a bath in over a year," the 40-year-old said. "I often chat with them, relieving their anxieties. After each bath, they look fresh and relaxed."
The job is not without its challenges. Yu once faced difficulties in bathing an elderly client weighing over 200 pounds. She has also faced misunderstandings due to seniors' reluctance to be bathed by strangers. Still, her passion for the job has never waned.
Yu was raised by her grandmother until the age of 18. "When she passed away, I wasn't there by her side. I hope what I'm doing right now can somehow make up for that," she said.
There are 264.02 million people aged 60 or above in China, including 190.64 million aged 65 or above, or 13.5 percent of the total population, according to data from the seventh national census.
Zhejiang Province is one of the most rapidly aging provincial-level regions in the country; by 2025, around 28 percent of the population is expected to be 60 or over.
While the aging population brings pressure to Chinese society, it also provides potential for the rise of the silver economy, of which mobile bathing services are part. Back in 2019, a mobile bath van was put into use in the Jiangning District of Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province.
In February, China's State Council released a plan for the development of the country's elderly care services system during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), among the latest steps in implementing a national strategy to address population aging.
Various types of businesses, including mobile bath vans and in-home bathing service will be supported, and a batch of professional bathing assistance organizations will be cultivated for seniors, the plan said.
Yu believes that the mobile bathing service will continue to be in demand. These days, she never feels embarrassed walking around the residential compound in her uniform, because her job and the service she provides have been increasingly accepted.
"My husband and daughter fully support me now," said Yu. "We have not turned down a single request in the past two years. We want to deliver a decent bath for the seniors, and we will never let them down." ■