Mumbai Capital

The cost of caring for the elderly

Reenita Malhotra Hora  

Elderly parents who have fallen ill. It’s what I’ve been dealing with most of this week. In addition to the lack of a holiday slowdown at work and two teenage children who are working overtime on higher education applications.

Frankly, it’s more than I want to tackle during what should ordinarily be a slow period of the year yet when you have ageing parents, the work doesn’t really stop. For me, it brings perspective to the idea of ageing.

We all fear the deterioration of our bodies and the possible lack of financial security due to decreased income. Both are a natural by-product of old age. Some people fight old age through the use of supplements, aggressive weight-loss programmes or through overzealous physical training programmes. Others accept it gracefully and adapt as well as they can. Still others refuse to grow old and resist aging by adopting social strategies such as denial, refusal to participate in life or becoming belligerent.

Regardless of your approach, one thing is clear – if longevity is on your side then somebody will need to take care of you. Traditionally, the responsibility of caring for elderly parents lies with their children. However, this is easier said than done with families shrinking, support systems vanishing and children with careers in faraway lands.

According to a report by real estate consultant Jones Lang LaSalle, India had around 100 million senior citizens (aged 60 and above) in 2012, a number that is expected to double by 2030. National surveys indicate that nearly 5 per cent of the senior citizens in the country have no one to look after them – either they do not have children or are neglected by them. Only 32 per cent of the senior citizens get pension, while 38 per cent of this age group do not stay with their children.

Increasingly then, many seniors find themselves flocking to old-age homes, retirement communities or assisted living facilities.

Of course, there can be a tremendous amount of guilt associated with this – typically from younger generations who are faced with the dilemma of how to care for their ageing parents. In our culture, ageing parents traditionally live with their children. So, for many, the very idea of putting elderly parents in an assisted living facility or a nursing home is akin to ‘abandoning’ them... ‘dumping’ them in the hands of others.

But is it fair to assume that just because you are their child, you are better equipped to deal with their day-to-day... and frankly moment- to- moment ageing issues? Or might you be making a better decision by putting them in elderly care.

It is worth separating the emotions from the situation to truly analyse the cost effectiveness of enrolling your parents in a retirement facility or old-age home. There are a couple of things you should ask yourself --

Can you take better care of ageing parents than professional caretakers?

Remember there is a lot that goes into it – feeding them, bathing them, spending time with them, entertaining them, providing them medical care. An assisted living facility is fully staffed to do this. At home, the responsibility falls upon you, but if you work full time or have children to take care of too, then you will be left thinking about the additional burden. You might hire a full-time nurse or caretaker to but will this cover everything from washing and cooking to administering medication and physical therapy?

Do you have the space?

Seniors who live alone often experience social isolation and poor nutrition which contributes to cognitive decline, health problems, depression and a lower quality of life. The easy answer then is to have your parents move in with you but in a rapidly urbanising country like India where space is a luxury, this is easier said than done. Even in a culture borne out of joint-family living, it can be stressful. As parents age, their need for quiet and down time is paramount but this is near impossible if their immediate environs are bustling with activity.

Retirement homes offer a one stop-shop solution. Not only do they cater to the senior lifestyle but are likely to offer a complete range of health and wellness facilities, and assisted living. And they can be extremely cost effective. Of course there is a massive range of available options starting from Rs 15,000 per month going into several lakhs.

It all depends upon what you are willing to pay to give your elderly parents the care they deserve. Perhaps, it is best to start by asking yourself what you would want when you reach their age... and what you think might be a fair price for your comfort.

(The writer is a financial journalist and author of ‘Money Smart: The Indian Woman's Guide to Managing Wealth’)

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 4:46:56 AM |

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