Background: Demographic ageing is occurring at an unprecedented rate in China. Chronic diseases and their disabling consequences will become much more common. Public policy has a strong urban bias, and older people living in rural areas may be especially vulnerable due to limited access to good quality healthcare, and low pension coverage. We aim to compare the sociodemographic and health characteristics, health service utilization, needs for care and informal care arrangements of representative samples of older people in two Beijing communities, urban Xicheng and rural Daxing.
Methods: A one-phase cross-sectional survey of all those aged 65 years and over was conducted in urban and rural catchment areas in Beijing, China. Assessments included questionnaires, a clinical interview, physical examination, and an informant interview. Prevalence of chronic diseases, self-reported impairments and risk behaviours was calculated adjusting for household clustering. Poisson working models were used to estimate the independent effect of rural versus urban residence, and to explore the predictors of health services utilization.
Results: We interviewed 1002 participants in rural Daxing, and 1160 in urban Xicheng. Those in Daxing were more likely to be younger, widowed, less educated, not receiving a pension, and reliant on family transfers. Chronic diseases were more common in Xicheng, when based on self-report rather than clinical assessment. Risk exposures were more common in Daxing. Rural older people were much less likely to access health services, controlling for age and health. Community health services were ineffective, particularly in Daxing, where fewer than 3% of those with hypertension were adequately controlled. In Daxing, care was provided by family, who had often given up work to do so. In Xicheng, 45% of those needing care were supported by paid caregivers. Caregiver strain was higher in Xicheng. Dementia was strongly associated with care needs and caregiver strain, but not with medical helpseeking.
Conclusion: Apparent better health in Daxing might be explained by under-diagnosis, under-reporting or selective mortality. Far-reaching structural reforms may be needed to improve access and strengthen rural healthcare. The impact of social and economic change is already apparent in Xicheng, with important implications for future long-term care.