Memoir

Societal Perceptions of Caregiving for the Aged

Parents care for their newborns, fuss over adolescents, worry about their teenagers, pine after adult children and dote on grandchildren. Disregarding the rare exceptions, this process of caring for another being repeats with little variation, every generation, and derives from love. However, overtime, love becomes an underlying reason superseded by responsibility and filial piety.

To me, love should be the sole reason behind any form of caregiving narratives. Responsibility and filial piety are honorable values but arguably, socially constructed concepts that may not prevail with the test of time, family or economic circumstances. Genuine love is different. It is not only capable of sustaining procreation but it also predicts future quality of care and support.

We often find love to be the justification for family planning and caring for a child. Common quotes, “I would love to start a family, I love children, my children are my flesh and blood, I will always protect my children, I want the best for my children.” Yet when discussing elder care, we unknowingly equate it with societal benchmark measurements such as economic burden, caregiver stress, reasons for filial piety etc. “I am grateful to my parents for making me who I am, I am thankful for my parents’ unwavering support, balancing work and care for a frail elderly is hard work, it is my responsibility to give back to my parents for what they have given me in life.”

The purpose of this article is not to ridicule any caregivers, rather, it serves to highlight the rim of negativity associated with caring for the aged. Understandably, caregiving is hard work and it involves direct and indirect costs. However, the perception of caregiving for specific demographics, especially the aged and/or disabled, requires urgent readjustments.

Focusing on the investment argument. While we may view the cost of bringing up a child as an investment for their future, why do we not see an equivalence that caring for an elderly is an investment for a more fulfilling ageing experience?

Ageing is a natural part of life’s trajectory. Regardless of our age, we will age. Societal norms of categorizing age groups with specific labels have unintentionally associated age with variables such as societal usefulness and cause for emotional distress. Turning 65 is a number, not a red flag for fear, undue anxiety and economic redundancy.

To me, elderly are simply bigger, older and wrinkled versions of children.

If this deduction has an ounce of truth, the natural patience to cloth, feed, play, educate and protect a child, should also be naturally extrapolated to the elderly at home. Yet often, elderly’s years of supposed life experiences and the ability to articulate themselves, lead most to erroneously assume that a different form of care that neglects play, re-education and protection is required. If an elderly develops debilitating disabilities or health ailments, clothing and feeding becomes part of the routine care too.

To summarize: A child in every elderly, an elderly in every child.

To be socially conditioned to assume that there is a different approach to elder care due to their physical and numerical differences, only emphasizes the need for urgent societal attention and revision of addressing ageing impartially. After all, it is never too late to change the longstanding perception of difference between the two demographics.

Short of saying that the role of caregiving is sacred, it is indeed an intimate journey born out of love between the carer and the cared. It offers a second chance at creating more shared memories, this time, with inverse roles.

Memories are never overrated, only underestimated. It has the power to heal, to remind and to inspire, and the act of caregiving does more than just total shared experiences. It helps us to better accept the inevitable death, while loaning us quality time to celebrate a life too.

Across every lifespan, individual emotional vulnerability is constant of time. Regardless which independence mantra one may subscribe to, we will always hope to have someone to depend on, a person to spend our days or last days with.

The feeling of being loved and loving is irreplaceable.

And a wrinkled elderly is as much of a darling as a Michelin-wrinkled child.

Technology and Ageing: Challenges and Elderly Engagement

Kind to the savvy and cruel to the tech dinosaurs. This aptly sums up how technology is changing our world these days. Whether it is by force, out of necessity or sheer curiosity, technology is a part of the 21st century and is here to stay.

As a millennial, finding my way with technology takes constant learning and multiple attempts at trial and error. What might seem easy for us only gets harder for the older generations, especially those with disabilities.

There may be scores of tech-savvy elderly, but being late adopters of technology (smartphones, computers etc.), elderly do face numerous challenges.

1. Physical challenges: Tremors or heavy touches may register as a swipe or a 3D Touch instead of a light tap. Hence, when a command different from what is intended was executed or an error message appears, this heightens the confusion and anxiety experienced when trying to adapt to the new technology.

2. Elderly friendly technologies: Besides literacy issues, font sizes, size of physical buttons, touch screens’ sensitivity, speaker volumes, user-interface, battery lifespan, are features that need thoughtful tailoring to suit the needs of the elderly and their various health ailments.
My family tried introducing an elderly-friendly phone to my grandma when she was in her seventies. The main aim was to maintain regular contact with her especially when she is out for temple prayers and grocery shopping. With a simple dual function phone  for calls and text messaging, aided with large keypads and screen font size, it was initially hard to comprehend why my grandma was still hesitant to use it.

This leads to two other challenges. Notably,

3. Difficulty learning and retaining new information: With or without any disabilities, forgetfulness is a common reason why at times, we are unable to operate or do things even after being taught. After all, familiarity and proficiency are built upon overtime.

4. Skeptical about new technologies: Growing up without a mobile phone or any other smart technologies naturally creates a genuine lack of concern if an elderly ever needs to adopt one, let alone promptly.

Technology might bring us greater ease in our everyday lives but elderly lived through years without it. Are we forcing them into a life that we grew into or is technology really able to revolutionize the lives of everyone, even the aged?

In this video, it shows my grandma, 85, responding to me in real time despite it being a video recording. My mum and aunts always encourage her to call her children or grandchildren if she misses them. Either she will talk to us directly over the phone or they will voice record or video her asking her questions. In turn, we voice record or video ourselves in response to her.

Technology might be foreign to elderly like my grandma, but it sure help keep the geographical distance between us shorter.

Watch video on Grandma responding to my video recording here.

Innovating Home Based Caregiving

Caring for elders at home takes effort, courage and creativity. This video  gives a brief overview on the collective effort of caregiving and the simplicity of innovating exercises with every day furniture and modern technology.

My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  A standalone difficult news but coupled with multiple health and physical conditions such as asthma, depression, two total knee replacement surgeries and a posterior spinal instrumentation surgery, makes the new diagnosis all the more worrisome.

I was fortunate to have two grandfathers and a maternal grandmother at birth. Even more blessed because all, doted on me.

My maternal grandmother looked after me since my birth till I was schooling in primary school. Naturally, I am very close to her and because of the extended time we spent together, I even picked up dialects from our years of communications.

My maternal grandfather passed away shortly after my birth due to pancreatic cancer and my paternal grandfather passed away when I was in primary four due to liver failure. Sometimes, I wish I could have a few more years with them.

Quality time can be in the form of simple companionship or an activity done together. Exercising with my grandma was our way of spending quality time. Not only does it help my grandma lose weight but also create more memories for both of us.

Watching her smile and laugh while we improvise or try new things, the serious look when she focuses on getting a new skill or activity right, is worth much more than just studying about dementia and hoping for a medical cure.

After all, it is about the little moments we have with them and how we can help them find a purpose in their lives and that of ours too.

I love my grandparents, my grandma and I believe we all do too.

Watch video on Caring for Elders at Home here.