Who Will Give Long Term Care to Grandma? Or Mom? Or Me?

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In China, a law was recently passed decreeing that adult children must make regular visits to elderly parents or else run the risk of paying a fine. In Korea, the Confucian principle of filial piety serves as the philosophical ground for a culture of caring for aging parents, not only out of duty but with a sense of honor, as well. Mediterranean and Latino cultures hold no stigma against the elderly, instead celebrating the wisdom that comes with increasing years and unquestioningly including their grandparents in all social activities. Here in America, things look a little different. In a culture that often prioritizes youth, it seems that the older ones in our society have been pushed into a sector of life often very separate from ours. We find ourselves trying to understand how to provide long term care for our parents by sifting through a legion of options: assisted living facilities, community care, nursing homes, continuing care retirement communities, and the list goes on.

Elderly folks may choose to be in communities where they are surrounded by others in their age group. However, as we face difficulties presented by health insurance, Medicaid, and sometimes a lack of good local options for long term care, we might consider stepping in to provide this care for our parents ourselves. The number of Americans who have chosen this option, to care for people over the age of 50, is around 49 million. This seems to be most common in poor and immigrant neighborhoods of urban America; we often see the elderly living inside a family home, being cared for by their adult children and in turn, perhaps watching after the grandkids. This may be a cultural difference brought from lands of origin, or it may be that adequate care is beyond economic reach for these folks, but regardless of the reason, it does seem like a nice way to form intergenerational bonds between elders and youth, and to ensure that our elders are not spending their final years in isolation.

In 2010, about one-sixth of the American population was over the age of 65. In 2030, those over 65 in America will be about one-fourth of the population. This means that a lot of us will be involved in either receiving care in some form, or (for younger readers) making decisions to provide care for our parents. What do you want to see happen? What sort of long term care is your ideal situation? Perhaps the elderly community model feels like the right fit. Perhaps there will be a move toward bringing our elders into our homes as is done in other cultures. Perhaps when we are the elders, the children who we cared for over the long term (at least the first 18 years of their lives, in most cases), will feel called to step into the caregiver role with us. What would happen if this fundamental change occurred in America, too?

To learn more about options for long term care, visit http://www.aaawm.org/Choices_Independence.

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