Caring for the elderly

Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

Feb 03, 2023

Three generations ... the writer (centre) with her mother and granddaughter at a recent celebration.

                                              From the other sideE Regina William

Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

The topic of elderly care is surely one that would resonate with most of us. Having lost my father 37 years ago, my mother, who was then 53 years old, lived with one or the other of us six siblings through the years, until a few years ago.

Three years ago at the height of the COVID- 19 pandemic, she became seriously ill and doctors gave her between three to four months to live. We almost lost her then, but as always, she pulled through. Six years ago at the age of 83, she had a fall and broke her femur but recovered after surgery.

Through all of this, we managed to keep her at home, with care-givers looking after her during the day. Mom was not always the easiest person to manage, especially when there were many restrictions on her diet. As much as we wanted to have her live with us, it got difficult as care-givers were not always dependable, and leaving her at home alone with a maid while we worked was not an option. Three of us siblings, including myself, live abroad.

What do you do in such circumstances?

Mom, who turns 89 this year, is now in a home where she receives round the clock care. We have received brickbats from family, friends and relatives who have admonished us for “abandoning” Mom in a home.

This piece might invoke some differing thoughts on the subject but let me tell you, Mom would be the first person to tell you that she’s happy in the home.

While most of her siblings, family and friends have passed on, except for a brother who is in his 90s now, she yearned for companionship.

Staying with either one of us at home while we all went to work made her even more resentful. The stigma of placing a much loved elderly parent in a home is always a heavy burden on anyone, especially in our Asian society where family values are always seen as paramount and placing a parent in foster care is almost always seen as total abandonment. Such was the predicament of every one of my siblings, with much arguments and disagreements to decide how best to care for Mom.

The solution came almost like it was Godsent. It was an obscure advertisement placed in the HERALD which caught the attention of my eldest sibling in Penang who then alerted those of us in Kuala Lumpur to check out this place.

Mom was the one who had initially suggested that she be placed in an assisted care home and she was equally excited to have a look at the place. Her choice was made almost instantly as we arrived at the home. A clean and well managed Catholic home with only a handful of residents and an almost equal number of caregivers to ensure that every need of the residents is met.

While we did not like what we saw in most of the homes, we were thankful that this home was just like a home away from home and we knew Mom would be comfortable here.

Devoid of rows and rows of beds in the living room unlike other nursing homes, Mom took a liking to this particular one where she resides today.

At the home now, she has like-minded friends around her age and spends her days praying or playing gin rummy which she would often win if not all the time (she knows how to hoodwink everyone at a card game). Weekends are when she gets to spend time with family and more often than not, family visit her at the home whenever possible.

At the home, she gets personalised attention and meals catered to her restrictions. Even when she comes home for the weekends, much as she loves spending time especially with her grandchildren and great grandchildren, she asks when she would be going back to the home as she misses her friends.

I’m not saying that it is the best solution for Mom, but it is the best for her well-being and health, for now.

Unlike many other countries where the care for the elderly is well managed through the healthcare system even when they are at home on their own, Malaysia still has a long way to go.

I know of family members living abroad who have health workers coming around twice daily to manage their daily needs.

For instance, elderly care in the UK is highly regulated, and care providers whether residential, nursing homes, or care at home, are rigorously inspected to ensure the elderly are comfortable, safe, and healthy.

Under the NHS continuing healthcare, for those with ongoing significant physical and/ or mental health needs and those who receive care in their own homes, the NHS covers the cost of care and support they need to meet their assessed health and associated care needs, which includes personal care such as help with washing and getting dressed.

This way, they get to live in their own homes comfortably and their families can be rest assured they are safe in their own homes.

Perhaps there is also the need for a dedicated government department (perhaps under the Ministry of Health) to monitor and regulate assisted care homes, and to ensure that incidences of mistreatment of the elderly never happens. This was one of our main concerns initially before we found muoWhile there are homes that are well regulated and uphold the highest standards of cleanliness, some of the homes operate in appalling conditions and several homes we visited had a stench lingering in the air as soon as we entered their premises.

As I enter into my sixth decade this year, I’m not discounting the possibility that a home is where I would want to be when I’m no longer able to care for myself. I’m looking for like-minded friends who might be interested to bunk in with me too. Call me in 10 years.

(Regina William is an ex-journalist turned head of communications, now full-time grandmother to three, crisscrossing the globe to play the role.)

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