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November 28, 2007 > Pathways to Positive Aging goes to Taiwan

Pathways to Positive Aging goes to Taiwan

By Suzanne Shenfil

In Taiwan it was the Double Ninth Festival - the ninth day of the ninth lunar festival - and the Chong Yang Festival dedicated to showing respect and appreciation of the elderly. It was also time for a serious International Forum on the Promotion and Practice of Elder Education. At the invitation of the Ministry of Education and the Graduate Institute of Elder Education at the Chung Cheng University, representatives of Fremont were honored to present Pathways to Positive Aging, our local initiative to improve long term care for older adults and the wrap-around model of elder care implemented by the Human Service Department over the last 30 years.

Traveling to Taipei on October 18 with Human Services Director Suzanne Shenfil were Mary Anderson, Executive Director of Life Elder Care and President of the Tri-City Elder Coalition, and Cordelia Shieh, a recent graduate of the City's Community Ambassador Program, and active member of the Taiwanese Community Help Association. The Fremont contingent joined presenters from the United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, North Carolina (USA) and representatives from several programs in Taiwan. Over 600 participants attended the forum, many from government departments, universities, community colleges, family education centers and private foundations.

The forum addressed a serious issue. From 1950 to 2050 the number of persons over 65 years of age will grow from 131 million to 1.46 billion; 5.2% to 15.6% of the world's population. Many countries are beginning to prepare for this "age wave" and Taiwan is no exception. By 2026, Taiwan anticipates that 20.1% of its population will be over age 65. That country is also experiencing a lowered birth rate. In 1996 there were 33 children born per thousand persons. The rate is expected to drop by the year 2015 to nine children born per thousand. This means fewer people in the workforce, and lower productivity for the country. With fewer students, K-12 schools and universities are beginning to experience vacant classrooms. This is creating opportunities to use these resources to develop life-long learning for older adults and train professionals to work with older adults, perhaps eventually creating a certificate program in elder education.

Seniors historically flock to senior centers in the United States while in Taiwan, perhaps because of a strong cultural value of education, seniors participate in similar programs and activities at facilities called "Elder Universities" or "Elder Academies." During the two days following the forum the Fremont contingent had an opportunity to visit a number of these programs including the Suan-Lien Elderly Center in Zhan-ji. This newly constructed high rise facility, located near a beautiful coastal area, houses over 360 elders. Residents participate in a multitude of stimulating classes through their "university" program including traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy, dance and exercise.

We were warmly welcomed by the elders at this site and before we knew it, were engaged in dancing activities ourselves. It was interesting to be approached by several of the older adults who had worked for many years in the Bay Area but returned to their native Taiwan to retire.

The Suan-Lien Center has incorporated small apartments in the facility for families who come from around the world to visit their relatives. The most popular visiting time is Lunar New Year, when the center hosts dinner for 1200 residents and family members. We also visited the South Sun Aging Association, in Yilan County about an hour from Taipei, which hosts "elder university classes" at a multitude of sites, from a storefront location serving elders in a neighborhood to classes held in space provided by a Tao Temple.

We were pleased to see that our efforts in Fremont are similar to those in other countries. Not only did the forum provide a unique opportunity to share "best practices" with others from around the world, but allowed us to experience first-hand the warmth and hospitality of educators and students from Taiwan working to build a better future for older adults in their country.

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