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Homes for the elderly are mushrooming everywhere, particularly in urban landscapes. The decline of Eastern family values and change in priorities are seen as factors influencing this trend
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By R. S. Kamini
FILIAL piety is fast becoming a thing of the past.
A quick Internet search on old folks’ homes will easily generate hundreds of search results complete with addresses, contact details and route maps, feeding proof that the number of homes for the elderly are on the rise.
A recent article by The Star states that at least 10 elderly Malaysians end up in homes on average per week.
Welfare Department director-general Norani Hashim was quoted as saying that an average of 536 elderly persons were placed in registered centres each year between 2009 and 2012 and that the actual number could be higher as not all private homes were registered with the department.
The Statistics Department states that senior citizens (above the age of 60) account for about 9% (2.6 million) of the total Malaysian population as of last December.
The consensus was that work stress, time, space and lack of skills had all contributed to this trend.
Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Institute of Gerontology director Professor Dr. Tengku Aizan Hamid says if children are abandoning their parents at homes or hospitals, it’s probably because they lack the skills to care for the elderly.
“It’s a huge decision-making process. Most children want to care for their parents but they just do not know how to. It’s a big dilemma that almost all urban families go through,” says Tengku Aizan, adding that the issue cannot be analysed from one angle.
She says family environment and values play a huge role when it comes to such decision-making.
“It all depends on how close-knit the family is and what sort of values they hold on to,” says Tengku Aizan, adding that children who are taught about respect, filial piety and the importance of family institutions are less likely to abandon their parents.
National Council of Senior Citizens Organisations (NASCOM) vice-president Azlan Hussain has similar views.
While he agrees that value-based upbringing does make a difference, he attributes the increase in old folks’ homes to matters of dignity and affordability.
“The group of senior citizens that we have today are most likely educated and have the money to support themselves, so they choose to go to a home where they can be in like-minded company. It’s not their children’s fault in this sense. At times, it’s a matter of dignity and the elderly choose not to be seen as a burden,” says Azlan.
He says the group that has just moved into the retirement age also look for supplementary and recreational activities. Their children do not have the luxury of time and money to provide for these as they have their own families and commitments to tend to.
“Naturally, those who can afford it will consider retirement homes or centres that will help them fulfil their needs, and private homes are mushrooming around the country to meet that need. Some provide nursing care because those in their 70s will need it,” says Azlan.
He says NASCOM is working with local governments to provide space for day-care or community centres for the elderly in condominiums and flats so that children do not have to send their folks away and the elderly will have some place to go to while their children are away at work.
Homes for the elderly, however, are singing a different song.
Reverend Teo How Ken of Rumah Charis says children today are selfish and irresponsible.
“They look for an easy way out. So sending their parents to homes seems like a viable solution. They cite money, time and space as factors that deter them from caring for their parents.
Rumah Charis has seen all sorts of cases since its establishment in 1988, he adds.
“We only care for the destitute above 60. Most of them are referred to us by the Welfare Department or the public,” says Teo.
Similarly, the Little Sisters of the Poor, an establishment which has been around since the 1970s, says the Eastern family values are fast diminishing.
“We only have six sisters and a couple of administrators helping to care for the residents. We are understaffed and tired because it is not easy to care for the elderly.
“Many have no relatives but there are some whose children or relatives do not even visit or bother to claim their bodies even upon death,” says sister-in-charge Sister Agnes Cecilia, adding that the home caps its enrollment at 70 people at any one time to ensure that all are taken care of properly.
Malaysians in general say the lack of emphasis on family values have contributed to this scenario.
Trainer Billy Fong, who has directed and staged a number of international plays on filial piety, says parents have to instil the right values into their children, besides stressing the importance of family institution.
“Children who grow up in such environment will not make hasty decisions to abandon their parents.
“Even for those with huge commitments, they will weigh other righteous options before sending their parents to a home,” says Fong, adding that it’s a collective responsibility of parents, children and the society to support Eastern family values.
Senior project management consultant Sunil Hasmukharay says it’s all about priorities and time management.
“Children today are embarrassed to be associated with their parents. How many of us would take time off to hang out with our parents and attend functions with them? It’s all about priorities.
“Parents today are so materialistic that they teach their children to be successful but forget to educate them on caring for the elderly and respecting them.
“I blame both the parents and children but, at the end of the day, we have to remember that our parents have worked hard and sacrificed a lot to bring us up.
“The least we could do is to care for them in their old age,” says Sunil, who coordinates a public initiative called Honour Our Parents Everyday (HOPE) with a local interfaith NGO.
If this trend continues, he adds, the country will be full of old folks’ homes instead of family homes.
Our parents are not going to be around for long and we often forget that what goes around comes around.
As Mother Teresa rightly puts it: “The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”