Our Sunset Years

by Olivia Daniel

According to the Malaysia’s Healthcare National Key Economic Area, if you are like me in your 60s, then welcome to the ageing population. Health, welfare, care and living arrangements become our major concerns. We can only hope to be physically and financially independent for as long as possible.

When we are physically and mentally fit, there is no problem. We keep ourselves busy through church activities and Bible studies, social networking, physical exercises like gardening and going for walks, doing cross-word puzzles and Sudoku or baking for occasions.  That may hopefully slow down the onset of dementia. But the problem starts when we cannot take care of ourselves.

When family members place their elderly in the nursing home or care centre, we may think it is cruel or unfilial of them. Some people even mistake a care centre for an old folks home. They think it’s the place where family members abandon their elderly as it’s free. But mind you, care centres are not cheap!

My sister, Saroja and bro-in-law Pannir both run an Elderly Home Care Center called Still Waters in Taman Klang Jaya, Klang after their return from USA. After having experienced taking care of our late parents and running a home in the States for many years, her boss had complimented and encouraged her to pursue her passion in this field. Saroja felt that it was one way of doing God’s ministry.

I volunteered to help until the helpers came. Now I am less judgmental when I see these elderly folks being placed in the care centre. Instead of arguing over who should care for their elderly parents while some practice rotation, care centres have become the next option.  Some people just want their wealth but not the responsibility. But generally the elderly who are placed here have physical and mental challenges, especially those with 24/7 needs. There are cases of the elderly who gone missing from their house or have mobility issues. Some have dementia, Alzheimer or are home-alone.

I observed and learned a lot from Saroja on the entire cleaning procedures from feeding, toileting and  grooming which are not easy though. Here we are dealing with adults who are used to do things their way and now they feel helpless and useless needing assistance from others. It is very challenging in the sense that some days are good and some are not; the elderly can be very demanding, stubborn and wanting things to be done immediately and according to their ways and can even bully the care givers. You need the patience of a saint! I also watched how Saroja interacts with them and their families.

The elderly folks in general love to:

a) talk and share their experiences

b) be hugged and touched. It matters a lot to them as they feel love and concern

c) be fed (occasionally)

d) pampered (have people cut their nails, comb their hairs put powder for them, and change their clothes). And yes, some of them behave like children.

The elderly also needs to be treated with respect: be they your father, mother or grandparents; don’t tease and make fun of them. They have feelings too. Don’t ever call the elderly “old man” and “old lady.” They are already old, why bring it up again and taunt them with these words. Use kind words, make them happy by complimenting or giving them a hug or two. It makes a lot of difference. When they are eating and drinking, there will be spills here and there; please don’t reprimand them, just clean up without grumbling.

There was this sweet aunty in the home, she was in her 80s. When her son came to visit her, she was so happy (by the way, he rarely comes to see her).  During a conversation with Saroja, he said, “I thought my mother will go off but she still seems to be around.” This is the son whom she yearns for daily. Aunty passed away soon after. Well, he finally got his wish, didn’t he?  “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old” Prov. 23:22.

There was another lady, a cute petite Aunty who is 95 years old will keep saying that she is 26 years old and has just delivered a baby. She gets angry when you try to correct her. She couldn’t even recognize her own son. When her son sits next to her, she practically chases him away.  Even in such situations, make sure to drop in regularly to spend time with them even when their memory or sight is fading.

I also notice that when the residents’ family comes to visit, the grandchildren rarely come along. Parents should expose their children to these homes or advise them to visit their grandparents.

After some time, most residents in the care centre seldom fuss about going home as they feel they are in good hands with people around them 24/7, well-trained caregivers and a doctor just a call away. 

Scary as it may be, I am beginning to forget things like where I placed my keys or my reading glasses, going to the kitchen and forgetting what I went there for. Initially I was quite concerned about my own situation. What if I outlive my savings? Who is going to look after me when I am frail and cannot do things for myself? Even my own siblings have their family or are ageing just like me or they are financially strapped.

As I was pondering over such things, it was reassuring to hear our elder, Steven Chan speak on this during a Friday bible class that the church will not neglect those in need especially if the Christian continues to walk faithfully and do good works.  In all these and whatever circumstances, I can be confident like the Psalmist who derived his assurance from trusting in His God. “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” Psalm 37:25.

Another option is as we age, let us plan to age well. Here is one good example of a sis-in-Christ in Australia. This elderly sister sold her large 3+1 bedroom cottage house and downsized to a 2-bedroom house in a retirement village, where it is quieter and there is less traffic. She can be nearer to her son and his wife. More importantly, there is a small church nearby where she can worship regularly. The remaining money from the sale, she puts into an FD where she can withdraw the interest for her monthly expenses. Her son picks up her credit card expenses, household utility and internet bills. Son and wife often stay with her when they are back in town.  She even opens up her extra room to visiting friends and church members from outstation. She is careful with her spending but not to the extent of being a miser. She is totally unselfish, generous and hospitable! She anticipates that one day she may not be able to care for herself, so she has already checked out some nursing homes and has given instructions to be placed there when the time comes. This is a great way to live and die with dignity!

In Malaysia, private developers are slowly building such retirement villages but there aren’t  enough of them to bring down the cost of stay. There is hope yet.

Of course, it would be good to have a care centre managed by and for Christians. A fund could be set up for the running of the home and members can contribute towards it. These funds can be utilised in cases where the member is alone without financial support and needs special care. There is assurance we will be well taken care of as we hear cases of abuse both emotionally and physically in some of these private centers. As a service to the church and God, medical practitioners within our midst could answer the residents’ call on a voluntary basis.

As Isaiah says,  

“Even to your old age and gray hairs

I am He, I am He who will sustain you.

I have made you and I will carry you;

I will sustain you and I will rescue you”

Isaiah 46:4.

All is not bleak as we head towards our sunset years!

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