The thought of getting older and having to look after oneself or a partner is daunting…We only really start to think of this as we enter our early sixties and retirement looms large. South Africa is a challenging country for retired folk as you are either able to live in a lifestyle village or you are on the street. There is very little middle ground.Over the generations and with different cultures, we have so many schools of thought when it comes to mixing generations in one household or putting an elderly person into a home. Both do not bode well. Having come from a rather large and mixed family myself, I have often had a discussion with friends or others who find themselves with the same dilemma.The younger generation is now staying at home longer due to financial constraints and therefore space is limited.However, the older generation who have now retired and find themselves in a financial crunch where when their pensions started a) their money was safe from thieving scoundrels and b) it went further when they retired, where now it barely covers the rent.Because the “now” generation is starting families later too, the older generations are too elderly to raise their kids and take them too and from school.
Where before, there was the ability to have an entire family helping wherever possible and everyone living together as its cheaper to feed everyone under the same roof than it is in different environments.So I decided to take a look at different options now that I am nearing 60. When it comes to elderly parents moving in with children or grandchildren, there are two schools of thought here. Safety and financial security. And when failing health reaches a point where constant care is required, family is around to assist.From a security perspective, its definitely better than living alone and being vulnerable to the elements that lurk beneath every society. They prey on the elderly whether its a money scam or simple burglary. They are unable to defend themselves and any confidence trickster can talk their way into the home and then take advantage of their finances.
When it comes to being able to all eat together, the upside is that its cheaper to feed everyone together but generations in one home don’t eat the same or at the same time. This is hugely challenging. From the family its challenging to have friends over for dinner and for the kids, they eat later. For the grandparents how do they entertain their friends or have them over for dinner.When frail parents are getting on in years, their habits are completely different to when they were parents. They also become more demanding due to their fragility. They cannot get their own tea or dinner and this becomes challenging as they get more frustrated. And because they are isolated from people their own age, they become lonely and cannot share their frustration with others in the same situation. Its now up the to family to entertain the grandparents. Not fair on any of the generations. Looking at old age homes for frail parents is not as bad as it used to be. And yes there are horror stories but that applies everywhere.My mother became very frail and we were unable to care for her.
The cost of frail care is essentially very high but as children and grandchildren, we clubbed in and assisted wherever possible. My mother on the other hand, became very aggressive and sometimes quite abusive because of her frustration and she did not want to be away from us at all. But I think there are definitely alternatives we have not yet explored. I would have really liked her to have a personal carer at our home but financially that was just too far out of our league. As we didn’t have extra accommodation, we had to have a night and a day nurse. Just not possible. I know it works in countries like the UK but not here.
I also see people in the UK being isolated and not only the elderly person but alsothe carer. People are not designed to be so isolated all the time.Recently there has been a move to have one carer in a home as a house mother and 3 or 4 bedrooms being allocated to an elderly person where the costs of the rental, food and care are shared between the residents. Sometimes these resi-dences can one of three or four on one property. Moving to retirement home is one thing but if it has no frail care facility it means another move before passing away. This is traumatic for everyone.In the last few years, we have watched our friends and family take in elderly parents and eventually when elderly parents can no longer drive and their friends can no longer come over and visit, the parent becomes more and more isolated.
The younger generation don’t have the patience to deal with it and the child who has agreed to take in the parents, are now faced with their siblings not assisting with their upkeep. So in the end no one is happy. Its not always like this. I know of families where having Ouma and Oupa or just one grandparent has been a blessing and love is all around. But in other situations, it has bound the family to isolation from other friends and being able to go on holiday or simply just go to friends to visit.Their fragility and the cost of medical care, means constant visits to the government hospital where queues are long and tedious. So when considering what to do when you retire, think through the options.
I have decided to put myself into a place where I would like to be and grow old with those around me that I know will share my views, sentiments and probably TV shows. I do not want to be isolated. I want to choose to isolate myself in my room if I choose not to socialise.I want to tell those who care for me how to care for me as I grow older. I want to choose to visit my children and friends until such time as they have to come and visit me or take me out.Growing old is not for sissies. And if we give it thought before we are in that situation, its not left up to our kids to make that decision.
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