The difficult Situation of elderly People in the West – 25 Sep 14

Western culture

I yesterday mentioned that people in the west had to send their parents or grandparents to a home for the elderly. I used the words ‘had to’ consciously, because they really were in a difficult situation, not finding another way.

There can be many people, especially from India, who oppose this thought. Having grown up in a joint family setting, it is no wonder that you feel deeply disturbed about the idea to send your parents to the care of strangers to a foreign place away from home. Full of indignation you protest that there has to be a way and that there is always a way. After seeing the whole picture however, you might understand why many people really don’t see a way for themselves.

I have experienced this with German friends. As I explained yesterday, people don’t live in family in the west, even when they get old. They have been living in their flat or house and that’s where they just get older with time. You can meet many women at the age of 75 years or more who have outlived their husband and have their own small apartment where they get along well. They go shopping for themselves, stay fit by doing some sports, are social and amazingly fit.

Until one day they fall, have an accident and have to go to the hospital. Or they slowly start forgetting little things, keep their food too long on the stove and burn it, leave candles burning and don’t hear their doorbell anymore. Things that worry their children. Once authorities gets to know about their home and health situation, they insist that these old people need to get help.

There are regulations on what has to be done for certain states of health. Food supply has to be ensured, emergency help has to be available, the bathroom has to be equipped with handles for getting up easily from a toilet seat etc. This all is possible if the person is still mobile and the funds are there for preparing the flat in this way. Once health has deteriorated so much however that there is constant danger of falling or help is actually needed at all times, for going to the bathroom or for ensuring that medication is taken, it gets difficult.

Even if an elderly person is living in the house of his or her son or daughter, it is very probable, that every other adult person in the home has to go to work to earn money. That means at least for half of the day, there is nobody home to take care! In India, you don’t only have a joint family but an extended family with uncles and aunts, cousins and just so many more people to be there! Women don’t always go to work, someone usually has a small child at home and is there to take care anyway – there is just always someone there. In the west, it is not like this! Not every family can afford to have only one person go to work – they need the income of both parents.

In Germany, there is a possibility to employ a 24-hour help for the home but for this nurse or caretaker you need another room and again the funds to pay! Human resources are very expensive and there are many regulations that have to be followed. Social security, although it is wonderful that it exists, doesn’t pay for all of this. The government uses tax-payers’ money to help but also tells the children to pay as well. In the end, it is cheaper to take care of several old people at one spot than of many at different places around town!

What I want to say is just not to judge. It is easy to do that out of your different cultural setting. I still believe a joint family is the better, lovelier and nicer place to be at. I believe that I would try every possible way to ensure my loved ones don’t have to go to a home for the elderly. But I also don’t judge those who cannot manage. The system around them has prepared them and also their parents for this step. I just hope that society will change one day and find a way that gives them more love!

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