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Retirement homes catch on among elderly

Update: June, 16/2013 - 01:14

According to the General Statistics Office, at the end of last year the number of people aged more than 60 in Viet Nam was 7.6 million, accounting for 8.74 per cent of the total population. By 2020, this figure will reach 11.2 million people, increasing 45 per cent, accounting for 11.63 per cent of the total population.

by Trung Hieu

Social welfare is becoming a more pressing issue in Viet Nam as the years go by, including the establishment of nursing centres for the elderly.

But the model applied in developed countries faces many traditional barriers in Viet Nam and is slow to be accepted.

For example, the children of Nguyen An Binh, 75, a former official of Viet Nam Academy of Science, wouldn't agree to let him live in a nursing home for the elderly so he had to ask an acquaintance to help him join a centre.

"When I told them about my idea, my children thought I was an idiot," Binh said. "But after entering the centre, I have found I can really live my way, among many friends of the same mind."

Binh said Vietnamese traditional thought that "children rely on parents and elders rely on their children" (Tre cay cha, gia cay con) is starting to lose currency.

"Today, as society develops, the elderly have better living conditions but they are more lonely," Binh said.

"Our children can hire domestic staff but how can the hired help share feelings with us?

"Our children have to work and live their own lives. Quality nursing homes are an ideal choice for the elderly."

However, the system is slow to be accepted in Viet Nam.

Nguyen Viet Cuong, born in 1932, a former doctor at Military Hospital 108, said: "A nursing centre for the elderly is the right solution for young people. Prejudices about how children should take care of their elderly parents have burdened our children and grandchildren for generations. When I decided to live in a nursing home, my children tried to stop me."

Dat Thi Long's children had more progressive ideas. They have supported her stay in a nursing centre since 2008.

"At first I only wanted to stay for few days," Long said. "They took good care of me, three good meals a day, clean rooms, laundry and medical care. And I have more friends to talk to. I told my children I wanted to stay in this place."

In the past, when talking about centres for the elderly, people thought they were places for the infirm or parents abandoned by their children.

But the majority of the elderly at these centres are those who have families and houses. They come with a desire to live within a community of elders who share a way of life, a way of thinking, interests and habits.

Many have been brought to the centres by their children but some have joined under their own volition.

Ngo Thanh Ha, the manager of the Thien Duc Centre on the outskirts of Ha Noi, said that when the centre first opened very few people would send their parents there because it was seen as not fulfilling their filial duty.

"However, as people see more of the situation in advanced countries and their attitudes become more open, many have helped their parents settle here. The eldest is now a 97-year-old lady who is still bright and healthy."

At present, the population in Viet Nam is ageing quickly but there is a lack of centres for the elderly.

Most Vietnamese with a traditional view point think the elderly must live with their parents, a type of filial piety. But as society is modernising, young people are moving out to live independently, and this is becoming socially acceptable.

In fact, many of the elderly who move into these centres have more private lives and are more comfortable than they were in their own homes.

Vu Tung, 68, of Ha Noi, said: "Every day I have a habit to go to sleep early, then wake up early to exercise, read books and newspapers. My children are busy with work so they often sleep late and get up late. Our timetables are different and our house is so small we get in each other's way.

"That's why I told them to let me move into a nursing home, so that I would feel more comfortable. Here, I can talk with people of my own age group, have time to read and study what I like without affecting anyone. When I remember home, I call my children to pick me up."

Nguyen Thi Vinh, 75, said a normal day at the centre for the elderly usually started at 6am with exercises, breakfast and a session with the staff reading newspapers. Then, depending on their health status, each person has a different programme.

"During the holidays, the centre arranges for the elderly to visit landscapes, temples and pagodas, depending on the demand. Perhaps our children at home can hardly do this for us, since they are too busy working," she said.

Nguyen Thi Huong, chief nurse at the Thien Duc Centre, said most of the elderly missed their children and grandchildren.

"We established the centre to give the elderly better facilities for treatment, care and training. But we don't encourage families to shirk their responsibilities. We can't replace the role of their children, although many elderly here regard us as their family." — VNS

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