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 However, overtime, love becomes an underlying reason superseded by responsibility and filial piety.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.