Program in Global Family Care for the Elderly and Social Change

Program Directors: Arthur Kleinman, MD and Hongtu Chen, PhD

Program Background

For most of the world, caring for the elderly is a family affair. However, family care for the elderly is substantially challenged, especially in societies where traditional family structure and relationships have changed due to the influences of demography, urbanization, political economy, and cultural shifts. While awareness of population aging and its associated eldercare demands has gained global attention in recent years, the gaps in knowledge, service, and policy in supporting families to provide and sustain adequate care for elderly people are persistently large. Professionals who are concerned about eldercare problems worldwide need to understand the complex situation of family care and also information on best practices of care. They need to understand support within the family, for the family, and between the family and health and social services institutions.

In response to the rapid changes of population aging and the growing concerns about eldercare needs in many nations, we organized the Global Initiative on Caregiving for the Elderly at Harvard University Asia Center. The Initiative, with generous funding support from Mr. Wang Wenliang, has successfully developed a learning network consisting of five research groups from China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hang Hong Kong, and Changsha), and four research groups from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, and Korea, in addition, and to individual participants from the U.S. and other countries. Through a combination of activities including symposiums, research meetings, field studies, case reports, and site visits, we have made important progress in our understanding of the eldercare situation and key challenges as well as exemplary solutions in these participating countries.

Built upon the work of the Global Initiative on Caregiving for the Elderly established at Harvard University Asia Center, which ended in July 2016, this program focuses on advancing knowledge and learning among key stakeholders about the complex nature of the demands and problems of family care for the elderly in lower- and middle-income countries, and promising practice solutions to these problems at the levels of individual family, community programming, and social policy development. The program is specially designed to create opportunities for interaction and communication among global eldercare professionals including aging service leaders, health care providers, social scientists, and policymakers, and for students who care about building a future society where seniors can age with dignity, families can receive appropriate supports, and societies agree on the value of caregiving to all in need.