Tuesday, January 19

Our old folks belong at home, not in homes


CONFUCIUS said, “A youth, when at home, should be filial and, abroad, respectful to his elders. He should be earnest and truthful. He should overflow in love to all and cultivate the friendship of the good. When he has time and opportunity, after the performance of these things, he should employ them in polite studies.”

I have learned so many things from my mother and father about the right upbringing, the right values, value for money, value for elders, for family members. I think these are things that only a parent can teach you.

Today we live in a very different world. A world of strange new values, of fast changing progress and instant gratification, and a somewhat perverted sense of right and wrong, of who our heroes and villains are. Just a quick glance at the morning’s newspapers, a scroll on the news portals online on your smartphone, and a quick 15-minute viewing of the day’s latest world news on television will tell you instantly how different it has become in the last few years.

Age is no longer as respected nor well regarded and there is universal love and worship for the power that wealth can bring and what a high position in society can command, usually regardless of how one had acquired it – whether it was hard earned, inherited, or otherwise dubiously begotten.

Along the way, we have cast aside the age old wisdom of what our different religions have taught us since we were children – to love thy neighbour, to help those in distress, to lend a helping hand, and to render relief to those in need. Most abhorrent of all, in many cases we have also either abandoned our very own flesh and blood elders, or have not given them their due care and attention that they need in their sunset years.

In an AIP Conference publication dated Oct 3, 2017, titled ‘Ageing in Place: an Overview for the Elderly in Malaysia’, SU Mohd Tobil, MSFathi, and D Amaratunga had written extensively on this subject.

Current population estimates for Malaysia in 2020 as issued by the Department of Statistics has shown that we now have a population of 3.5 million over 60 and above, in a total population of 32.7 million, thus representing 10.7 per cent of the entire population. It is expected to reach 14 per cent by the year 2028. With the unprecedented increase due to better health coupled with medical advances, better hygiene, and more abundant food supply it has become more important to address the challenges and concerns related to meeting their needs.

There is a formal definition of ageing in place as referred to by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2009) and is described thus, “The ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”

In other words, it involves developing services and facilities that will allow a person to stay in their home or chosen environment for as long as they are able to as they grow older; studies have shown that elderly people prefer to age in place rather than to relocate to another place or a residential care facility.

This no doubt is due to the fact that once they have this security of being ‘in place’ it allows them to maintain their independence, continue with their social engagements and networks, and remain in a safe and comfortable environment. Health issues usually deter this from happening; or more rarely family relocations or break-ups due either to divorces or work transfers.

It is a sign of the times too that usually elderly couples tend to stay with their children once they have retired from their working lives; some children too would stay with their folks in many instances. It is also not unusual that privacy issues and personality clashes can and do occur often and this would tend to cause great strife, stress, and frustrations, usually from the young towards the elders; which would lead to certain irreconcilable estrangements between family members.

One of the many possible solutions would be for the elders to buy a separate home, usually a serviced apartment or gated property if they can afford it and live on their own. Another would be for the children to admit the elderly into a home, again depending on their financial resources – and there are many to choose from, which cater from the low end right up to the more luxurious all-medical-facilities packaged deals. Even for those who cannot afford such solutions, there are the government and NGO-run Old Folks Homes, which are basic and really quite desolated and poorly-looked after places and usually not very well maintained.

The last recourse is in my opinion the solution that should never be allowed to be made, and those who have taken this route should be ashamed to look themselves in the mirror and ask of themselves how they would like it if at some future time, their own children do the same thing to them!

Elderly parents must always be looked after in sickness and in health, to the very best of their children’s abilities. If for whatever reason they can’t or won’t, they should find a better solution than to resort to sending them to such homes for the aged or some anonymous acquaintance’s house, unloved, and forgotten.

Filial piety is a central tenet of all religions: It is the pillar of Confucianism, based on the teachings of the Chinese sage Confucius (552-479 BCE). It involves taking care of and being good to one’s parents, and exhibiting respect, love, courtesy, support, reverence, and loyalty to them. In Christianity, look up the Bible at Ephesians 6:1-3: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” “Honour your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

Muslims too treat the elderly with dignity. Many consider it to be an honour and a blessing from Allah to be able to look after their elderly relatives and give them care with kindness, patience, and respect. It is also a duty.

However, it is also crucial that the government provides more services and facilities that meet the needs and priorities of the elderly – more social activities, improving healthcare, allocating better funding for elderly care needs. Social isolation and depression are real threats to their overall well-being and mental health as well.

All that our elders wish for is to be self-sufficient, and not be dependent on anyone – be it other members of their families, the government, or anyone else. Just ask any of them the next time you do meet someone you know well – and you’d be very surprised to find out that their needs are very simple and easy to fulfil. They have lived good lives and have done what they’ve set out to do in their lives, for some they may have some regrets but not many, for most they’re easily satisfied and just want to live the rest of their lives in comfortable secure surroundings among people whom they love.

Nothing else is as good as that.

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