Opportunities for growing old in ‘school’ in Taiwan


TAIPEI–Every day, Chang Chung-han wakes up at around 6 a.m., gets on the bus and arrives at the assembly hall for the morning flag-raising ceremony.

He starts off his day like any ordinary student in Taiwan, except that he’s not — Chang is a 94-year-old man who suffers from moderate dementia.

The “school” Chang attends is one of 13 senior community daycare centers commissioned by Taipei city government to serve the growing aging population, particularly elderly people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.

As of December 2010, there were 331,906 people aged over 65 in the capital city, accounting for 12.67 percent of the inhabitants, many of whom work in offices for long hours and have no choice but leave their elderly parents at home alone.

Taking care of the elderly, particularly those with dementia, can take a serious toll on family life and disturb the routine of the entire household, said Tang Li-yu, secretary-general of the Taiwan Alzheimer’s Disease Association, who noted that senior centers are a great help to families and to the patients themselves.

“Leaving them at home is not a wise choice. The important thing is that the activities offered at the centers help restore and refresh long-forgotten social and language skills, which have been found effective in delaying the degenerative process of the brain,” she said.

Chang’s “school,” for example, features various activity programs that help the elderly regain their confidence and smile. Music therapy, ball games, study groups, handicraft lessons, cooking demonstrations, karaoke teaching, even mahjong. You name it, they have it. Flag-Raising Ceremony One of the most popular activities is the flag-raising ceremony, said Huang Shu-hua, vice manager of the Xihu Senior Daycare Center, a newly opened public-funded institution for seniors.

“We wanted to make the elderly feel they are still a part of the community. So, as many of our clients are military veterans and retirees from school and government service, we came up with the idea of holding a flag-raising ceremony,” said Huang.

“Everyone participates in the ceremony, one way or another,” said Huang, explaining that a military retiree rings the bell, a retired principal delivers speeches and a former civil servant leads the group in singing the National Anthem.

“They love it,” she said. After all, not many health care facilities use the national flag as wall decorations and replace clocks with portraits of the founding father of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen.

“My father was so excited to go to school for the first few days that he would get dressed as early as 4 a.m., out of concern that he would miss the bus,” said Chang’s daughter.

“The service has taken a burden off my mother’s shoulders. My father, who used to be short tempered, has learned to care for other’s feelings through interacting with his ‘classmates,’” she added. “It has brought us closer than before.”

While the centers have obviously benefited some families like the Changs, Tang said, the government’s goodwill is not always well accepted.