Saturday, April 28, 2018

Elder care options

I guess as I journey through my senior years, one of the things I’ll have to consider is where I’ll live as I age. When I was considering an apartment to buy more than twenty years ago, one of the criteria was that it had to have an elevator. Where I was living was a walk-up apartment and I knew that I would one day probably not be able to manage the stairs. So when I moved to my current condo 21 years ago, I was pleased that it’s only on the 3rd floor which is manageable, and it also has an elevator. The irony is that it’s become so old itself that it constantly breaks down and is out of commission for weeks on end, waiting for its spare parts to arrive!

In this part of Asia where I live, independent senior care facilities are scarce. We have always been a community that includes senior members in the household. Grandparents are welcome and usually settled in a ground floor room. Traditionally they are revered and gently taken care of. It was always a part of the natural order and not even questioned.

With the onset of high-rise apartment living and the high cost of housing, abodes have become much smaller, and families have to make do with a two or three bedroom unit. Many young families view ageing parents as nuisances who take up too much room and require too much care. There are horror stories of aged parents who sign over their own apartment to their offspring only to be kicked out of their home. Or people who drop their parents off at the hospital for a short stay but never return to take them home.

Being raised to not only honor our parents but to take care of them in their old age, this is of course a sacrilege to me. But I also understand the younger generations’ point of view, that they want their own lives and privacy.

As our own life expectancies are now now longer, I guess I have to grapple with what I’m going to do when I need help at some point in the not too distant future.

I know of some seniors who have been stuck in “old folks’ homes” because they needed medical care and had nowhere else to go, either being single or their children just couldn’t look after them. These homes are generally just a large house where rooms are filled with mostly bed-ridden old people. No matter how much they tout these as professionally run operations offering quality care, they just look miserable.

Last year, when my sister had to have spine surgery, I offered to stay with her for a week or so during her convalescence. She was going to check herself into a nursing home otherwise, as she lives alone. So that’s a reality for those of us who don’t have anyone to take care of us.

There are some really lovely retirement homes in, say, the U.S. or Australia, where seniors seem to be happy in a community that caters to their needs while still living in a semblance of independence. However, the concept is still very new in this part of the world.

I visited one such facility recently, where residents live in their own units and have a clubhouse that provides for social activities. It seems like an acceptable compromise for people like me who prefer my own company and like being independent. I can still close the front door on the world and do my own thing, and go out seeking company when I feel like it.

I have friends who are financially well off and can afford a full-time live-in maid. One such friend has a trusted maid who does everything from grocery shopping to tending to the garden, and is, in fact,  a de facto companion. The only question for my friend is how long this maid can continue to live with her.

Another clever idea that’s also a compromise of sorts is apartments with dual entries. They are actually two apartments in one, the larger one for the young family while the smaller unit is occupied by the aged parent. It’s the modern equivalent of the granny room I suppose.

Those of us with children who live somewhere else will have to consider what the future holds. Do I continue to live where I am, surrounded by all that’s familiar? Or move to be where my child is?

When I broached the idea of moving to a retirement home one day, my son, B, was puzzled and asked why I wasn’t going to move in with him. It was on the tip of my tongue to say, “Of course not!”, but I quickly stifled that impulse and said, “Yes, that’ll be great but let’s wait and see what your future wife will have to say about that.

So we left it at that. I’d love to be still able-bodied enough to help out with grandkids (if he ever presents me with any), while still maintaining some form of independence to do my own thing. The dual entry apartment seems like a good option. I may still have to seriously consider a retirement home when I need some help. And so I'll continue to check out what’s on offer and weigh my options.

For now, I can still continue to live where I am. I’m alone but have help with cleaning. If I’m no longer able to drive and go out, I can always have my groceries delivered. Every day, when I pass the elevator, I wonder, “Which of us will eventually break down for good?’


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