Alternatives to sending parents to nursing homes

In the previous article, I have written on why we should not send our parents to nursing home. Regardless of any justifications that we wish to give ourselves to make us feel better, know that when we send them away, we would break their hearts.

Just like the many things that we are determined to get through in life, if there is a will, there is a way. Most often, it is a matter of whether we are willing to do it or not.

First, I would like to share on what we have done, and then I would move on to alternatives.

How my mom cared for my grandaunt when she was sick

My grandaunt passed away when I was just 9 years old. That time, nursing homes were not a trend as most people took care of the elderly. She was over 90 years old when she passed and all her life, she was a hardworking woman (she worked as a servant) and was caring for me on her own- I was born when she was 82 years old.

After a fall, my grandaunt’s mobility was affected even though she could still get down from her bed to go to the potty (she could not make it to the toilet). My mom had to go to work in shifts as a nurse. She would get up very early each day to cook and she would prepare a portion of food for my grandaunt which she placed on a separate tray. She gave me instructions at what time to carry the tray of food to my grandaunt. That time, we have no phone, hence my mom could not even call back to check on us. She would rush back after work, do chores and attend to my grandaunt. My dad would check in on my grandaunt from time to time as my dad was around in the mornings- he only went to work in the afternoon.

So from young, I saw how my mom took care of my grandaunt. I saw the exhaustion in my mom’s face and yet she never complained and did the best she could. These values got ingrained in me from a very young age even before things start to make sense, especially since I was also ‘recruited’ to help.

Even though in our home, things were basic and there was no plush treatment, my grandaunt looked to be at peace. She was surrounded by people whom she cared about, in the household where she felt comfortable. That time, there was no commode, no disposable diapers. Facilities were never as nearly as good as hospital but my grandaunt refused to stay in one.


There are alternatives that we can consider:

1. Hire a maid to take care of our parent

Prior to this, our parent may be living on their own. But due to old age, illness, fall, they may have reduced mobility or developed a chronic condition which make it not possible for them to stay on their own. In this instance, you may want to consider hiring a full time maid to look after our parent.

It can be placed at their home as most older folks get very attached to their home. But the best would be if the parent could come and stay with us. Do some renovations like partitioning off a certain portion of our home and install rails on their bed side and bathroom if they still have some mobility.  Many years ago, I know of a guy who had to constantly travel overseas for his work. His mother had a lot of illness including cancer, failing kidney and not able to walk. He actually renovated the entire downstairs of his home to add in a full functioning room and make the area disabled friendly. He also hired a full time maid to look after his mom.

2. Quitting the job to care for the parent

Siblings who are unable to care may initially want to pool the money to send their parents to old folks home. Usually they would be willing to chip in for the facility but not have to care for the parent directly. If one person is willing to do it, the person may choose to quit his job, and his living expenses being supported by the siblings. Since the siblings are going to spend the money anyway for nursing home, might as well give it to the sibling to support whatever financial commitments the sibling has.

However, do note that the unfortunate reality is whoever who take up this responsibility would often be stuck with the aged parent. Taking turns would not work out as many would find excuses to say it is not convenient when it comes to their turn. This is to be expected as the thing about caregiving is once the person agree, then it would become your sole responsibility. But one can work out with siblings to be willing to pay for occasional help to relieve the primary caregiver. It is a reasonable request.

It would be easier if the parent have the money of their own. That is why as parents, it is never a good idea to distribute your money away when you are still alive. You really need to keep some money for yourself. Then when you need looking after, you have means of supporting one of your adult child who need to leave their job for you.

I know of a family where 2 grown (unmarried) daughters ended up caring for their mother for more than 10 years. The mother had colon cancer and had to use a colostomy bag permanently. The daughters took good care of their mother. The funding was supported by another daughter who held a high corporate position.

3. Adult day care

Prior to quitting my job, some people had suggested sending my mother to an adult day care and then taking her back at the end of the day after work. So that my mom could be with us during night time and weekends. I thought about that option but felt my mom was not someone who could adjust well in a foreign environment. She can get temperamental and hostile if she sensed impatience and was not treated well. That time she already started having early stage of dementia which makes it harder.

However if there is only one grown child, and she needed her job, but did not want to send off her parent, then a senior day care can be an option if she could not afford a full time maid or helper.

Learn from the Malay community

My mom had always praised the Malay community for their care for old folks. She witnessed it time and time again, where even the anak saudara (nephew) come to care visit and care for them. While my mom had sadly seen few cases of Chinese aged parent being dumped by their grown child in the hospital, she had never seen it with Malay patients. Once, a nephew of a Malay patient wanted to discharge and take his auntie back to care for her and was upset why the hospital could not release her.

We have a lot to learn from the Malay culture. Because no matter how, they would always find a way to take care of an aged parent. Even though the adult child had a tonne of other responsibilities and kids to look after.  The caregiving would involve siblings, relatives and grandchildren who would each take turns to care for them. My brother shared a story with me that the father of a Malay employee become disabled through an accident. He was taken in to stay with the employee and all, including his wife and his children took care of the father. However unfortunately the accident had caused the poor old man to be in perpetual pain. Due to the constant pain, he had no appetite to eat. He passed away within a few months. However, at no point did his family discarded him even though he was disabled.

Buddhism hold parents in very high regard. For the Buddha said that it is impossible for us to repay the kindness of our parents who raised us. If we really want to care for them, there would surely be a way.  Just like they have sacrificed their life, freedom and spent money to raise and educate us, we should never discard them in their twilight years when they are weak, ill and defenseless.

When we learn to care for our parents, we are also passing down precious values to our children. If we choose to send off our parents to old folks home as not to inconvenienced our lives, we are also ‘teaching’ them to do the same next time when we get old.

I have lived long enough to witness with my own eyes cases where aged parents were badly treated by the daughter in law and the son did not dare to stand up to his wife. Decades pass and the grown children treated the parent exactly the same way as how their parents had treated the grandparent. They expected the parent to care for their spoiled rotten kid. And once their parent past their use, they get discarded and ignored.

Even though my mom was sold by her own mother into a servant family, she had made a vow to take care of the servant who I refer to as my grandaunt (the servant was not married so she could not legally adopt my mom. Instead her sister in law ‘legally’ adopted my mom so my mom refer to the servant as her aunt. But in the real sense, my mom considered the aunt as her real mom in her heart). She forgo of an opportunity to work in UK (her nursing qualification was accepted in all Commonwealth countries) when her friends went there because she could not bear to leave my grandaunt, who was not her real birth mother. And my grandaunt, who had a hard life, was not a warm fuzzy lady. When they talk, they ended up bickering as there was over 50 year old generation gap so their values were very different. Yet, my mom loved her greatly.

My mother had beauty and intelligence hence many men came after her but she did not settle with any of them. She told me because she knew if she married anyone of them, she would have to leave the old lady alone. My dad was the only suitor who could come and stay with her and the old lady after marriage. Of course, my mom at that time also fell for my dad was he was a breath of fresh air, a geekly shy guy compared to the party going smooth talking guys she knew. My childhood was spent with my grandaunt as an integral part of our lives. My mom cared for her till her end days. There were people who doubted her sincerity and mocked her but she had said, ‘it is okay, the heaven and the earth would stand witness to my intention. If next time, my children could do what I did for her, I will be very happy.”

And when my mom grew old and developed dementia, placing her to a nursing home was not an option.


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