Vietnam News

Putting parents in old people’s homes still troubling for Vietnamese

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Many people are unable to take care of their old parents, but cannot countenance sending them to retirement homes either since it is tantamount to abandoning them.

For the last year or so Phuong Thu, 37, has not been at ease since she does not know how to take care of her mother, a 70-year-old retired doctor with no interest in little children.

After her husband passed away 15 years ago she became less outgoing, and rejected Thu and her two sisters’ entreaties for her to live with them.

“I will die in my house,” she told them.

They hired a help, but the first one quit after a week and the second cried all day since her employer kept telling her to go away. Later she only cooked, while the old lady took care of herself.

But when she had a stroke and broke her arms two years ago, Thu and her sisters knew that a helper was not the solution for her mother.

Then, she had a bruise under her chin last year and another under her right eye before the recent Lunar New Year. Thu and her sisters, worried about her well-being, spoke to her about moving into a retirement home.

Thu said: “She got mad and refused.”

Worried that her mother could face problems without the help knowing, she installed three cameras to keep an eye on her.

Her mother is among 11.4 million old people in Vietnam, according to the General Statistics Office. By 2029 their number is expected to increase to 16.5 million elderly over 60, or 17 percent of the population

But some 70 percent do not get pensions.

Taking care of seniors is typically done by their children or domestic help, often not trained for such a job.

Thu said besides the stigma that sending parents away is tantamount to filial disloyalty, another problem is that old people’s homes are normally in distant suburbs meaning she and her sisters cannot visit their mother easily.

Nguyen Ngoc Thanh, a retired soldier in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem District, sent his mother to a retirement home in 2013 despite protestations from his brother, who called it dereliction of their duty.

The woman has been suffering from dementia for years, and cannot remember even things like if she has eaten. Once, Thanh had to rush home from a business trip since she refused to let his wife take care of her.

Later she had a stroke and bedsores after lying in bed for days. Thanh then decided to admit her to a nursing home for professional care

After checking three places, he chose one in Thanh Tri District.

“At first I visited her without telling the retirement home to see if they took good care of my mother.”

After two months he saw much improvement in her since she was getting physical therapy and had acquaintances to talk to every day.

She even started remembering her children and appreciating the care she was getting.

When they take her home for the Lunar New Year or their father’s death anniversary, she insists on returning to the nursing home, and even takes food for a nurse she describes as her fifth son.

Two years after Thanh admitted her there, his three brothers agree it was a good choice.

“It was lucky you took our mother to the retirement home, or she would have died.”

Vietnamese have a long tradition of taking care of their parents. But in modern society, families have only two instead of three generations living under a roof. But the so-called ‘duty’ prevents them to send their parents to retirement homes.

According to Nguyen Ngoc Quynh of the United Nations Population Fund, around 30 percent of seniors live alone, with an elderly spouse or a grandchild less than 10 years old, and the ratio is gradually increasing.

Though the rate of seniors living with their children is still very high, it decreased from 80 percent in 1992 to 62 percent in 2008.

Nguyen Ngoc Tuan, owner of the first private retirement home in Vietnam, said: “Old people need medical, physical and mental care. Families should ensure they give them all three.”

When he opened his first facility in 2001, people thought Ngoc was crazy since it would be like a “jail for old people” and how letting one’s parents live in a retirement home was bad.

But now he has homes also in the southern provinces of Dong Nai and Vung Tau, and takes care of nearly 500 old people now.

“My biggest achievement in the last 20 years is to somewhat eliminate the stigma (against putting parents in retirement homes),” Ngoc said.

Hoang Ngan, deputy director of a home in Hanoi’s Ha Dong District, said it is only bad if people send their parents away and offer them no care.

Since 2019 Thanh’s mother’s health has deteriorated and she can only eat through a straw and cannot remember her children any more. He still visits her regularly.

During the Lunar New Year holidays, his family members took turns to stay with her at the home.

“For me, having my mother taken care of in her last days makes me feel fullfiled,” he said.

By Phan Duong – – March 26, 2021

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