Smart Home Tech Makes Inroads Into China’s Emerging Elderly Care Market

Charging elderly clients just 1 yuan or about 15 cents a day, little-known Lanchuang Network Technology Corp has embarked on one of the most ambitious undertakings in aged care by a private sector firm in China.

Provided with a setup box, a webcam paired with a TV set and “Xiaoyi”, a Siri-like voice assistant, customers gain access to telemedicine and an SOS system as well as for-pay services that include housekeeping and meal deliveries.

A small robot that can ring up a medical center in response to verbal calls for help costs an extra 2 yuan per day.

Launched just four months ago, Lanchuang’s smart care system has already signed up 220,000 elderly clients in 16 cities, half of which are in Shandong, a rapidly aging province in eastern China where the company is based.

It is targeting as many as 1.5 million users this year, 12 million next year and 30 million in 2021, when it hopes to list on China’s new Nasdaq-style tech board.

The aim, however, is not to make money from its clients, some of whom get by on pensions as low as a few hundred yuan a month, but to take a cut from providers of offline services.

“China’s market for elderly care is huge, but services in the industry are fragmented,” CEO Li Libo told Reuters in an interview at his company’s headquarters in Weifang city.

“Scattered on the ground are pearls,” Li, 47, said of the products and services available, adding it was his company’s aim to string them together.

Lanchuang, which is also working with China Mobile Ltd (0941.HK) on a smartphone for seniors, is an example of growing, albeit still nascent, attempts by entrepreneurs to provide comprehensive smart home care services for China’s vast number of elderly.

China has a quarter of a billion people aged 60 or over, and by 2050, that number is set to climb to almost half a billion, or 35% of the population, according to government estimates.

Liu, 66, a native of Jinan, Shandong’s capital, knows how hard taking care of the elderly can be. In her mother’s final years, her urinary tract would get obstructed despite wearing a catheter and often in the middle of the night, to her daughter’s despair.

“If only I had been able to reach a doctor to help my mother, but doctors are not reachable 24 hours a day,” said Liu, who only gave her surname.

The retired accountant, who was unaware of tech products aimed at the elderly, now lives alone and is reluctant to trouble her own daughter and son-in-law.

Care of aging parents has traditionally fallen on the shoulders of children, but in modern China, where the one-child policy was abolished only in 2016, the son or daughter has to look after as many as four aging people including in-laws. Often, children have moved to cities far away for work.

Retirement and nursing homes are on the rise, but are too pricey for most families and largely perceived as ridden with abuse. Three-quarters of old people prefer to live out their days at home, official surveys show. – Reuters

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