HOW do we take care of our elderly?
Earlier this week, I read with shock and disbelief how some senior citizens had been left in squalid conditions in what was meant to be a home for the aged.
What I found most disturbing about the story was that their plight had gone unnoticed by their own families. Their families had left them some time back, and instead of checking in on them regularly, had chosen to ignore their existence.
The story speaks of tragedy and negligence. It is tragic that we seem to live in an age where we seem quite comfortable with the idea of neglecting our elders.
Many parents had been discarded; they had children and grandchildren and yet, their families just did not care about them. I am
left wondering why this was so; how could children ignore their parents?
There is no doubt that with old age comes a reduction in the quality of life, mostly due to a lack of a regular income and failing health.
It is no secret that people who live in homes for the elderly are vulnerable to
mental health problems. They are probably just as vulnerable to them living at home, but when left in an elderly care facility, their condition is less likely to be diagnosed and subsequently treated. Along with that is the greater likelihood of them being isolated and suffering from loneliness.
Yet, the elderly are sent to old folk’s homes the world over for a variety of reasons.
More often than not, their children just do not have the time and resources to take care of their needs, having their hands full with the challenges of their own jobs, children and other daily needs responsibilities.
Financial pressures on urban families these days result in people having to make difficult choices. Sometimes it’s not much of a choice, as the limits of resources — both material and psychological — are stretched beyond breaking point. Faced with the pressures of providing for their own family in times when the cost of living is increasing, people are left with poor options when it comes to taking care of their parents.
In some cases, these children have grown up in dysfunctional family systems, and therefore, do not have a positive relationship with their parents. Their resentment and anger with their parents result in them ignoring them when they need them the most.
In the United States, many old-age pensioners choose to move to a retirement home. They sell their family home and use the money to check themselves into a retirement facility in a sunny state such as Florida. These are the lucky ones, though, as it is not a cheap option. Some fall through the cracks and end up homeless on the street. Some end up committed in mental asylums. The diversity of what can potentially happen to us when we are old is quite scary, to be honest.
When I read this story, I quite selfishly thought about myself. What would happen to me when I am old and infirm? I hope I have enough money to provide for myself. I hope there are enough people who care for me who will be able to make the best decisions for my care when I am unable to make those decisions for myself.
To provide some affirmation for myself, every now and then, I find myself asking my sons if they will take care of me when I am old. In moments like these, I am reminded of my own mother and her need for assurances when I was younger.
Speaking of mothers, mine has her own fears of what will happen to her when she is no longer able to take care of herself. She fears Alzheimer’s, senility and dementia will hit her at some point in time, and she won’t know left from right and up from down.
Some time ago, we had a chat on what decisions she would like to be made for her and we had agreed to these in principle, although a large part of me lives in denial and hopes it will never come to pass.
Still, the fact that we talked about it, and agreed to certain things was as important to her as it was to me.
There was a reason why she chose to have that conversation with me. She has watched a number of her friends go through this over the past few years. One of them was found to have Alzheimer’s. Her only child, a daughter who lives and works in London, asked the mother to come to the UK, where she would place her mother in a home.
The mother refused that option because she felt she would not have any friends or relatives to visit her. So, they made the decision to put her in a home here in Kuala Lumpur. I don’t know how often friends and relatives visit her here, but that was the decision she was most comfortable with.
I doubt my mother will be one of those who slips through the cracks simply because she has enough people who care for her, and by virtue of some good luck, we are in a position to be able to provide some care for her should the worse come to pass. I obviously hope that I will be as fortunate as her.
My heart goes out to the people who end up in terrible circumstances like the ones found in the home earlier this week.
For people like them, we should be providing more social safety nets in Malaysia. And by that, I mean more than a journalistic
team responding to a tip-off from concerned neighbours.
> Sheila Stanley is a writer, TV producer and PR/media consultant based in Kuala Lumpur. She hopes her children will take care of her when she is old and infirm. You can share your thoughts with her on Twitter @ sheila_stanley or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.