by Thu Trang
(VNS) Five years ago, my mother-in-law went to work every day. She often told me that she planned to join a local elderly group when she retired. While she enjoyed social work, as deputy principal at a Ha Noi primary school, she was too busy to take part. She dreamt about doing exercises every morning with her elderly friends, carrying out charity work, or joining self-management groups.
However, I returned to work after five months' maternity leave just as my mother-in-law retired. Instead of following her dream, she stayed at home to take care of my twin daughters.
Taking care of two children, feeding them, playing with them, going to market every day to buy food and cooking meals kept her busier than when she was a teacher. Now that my daughters are old enough to go to kindergarten, my mother-in-law continues to take care of my brother-in-law's son when his mother goes to work. "I don't have time to watch TV, let alone going out to join activities with other elderly people," she said.
I'm sure that hanging about the house all day doing housework and looking after children keeps my mother-in-law's dream a long way off. However, she is not alone. All elderly people in my neighbourhood take care of their grandchildren.
Nguyen Thi Tam, 60, living near my house, said she offered to look after her grandson instead of hiring some-one to do it because she didn't have confidence in anyone else. She did not want to send him to kindergarten as she worried that he would fall ill and lose weight.
Day by day, Tam and her husband take turns to hold the boy, feed him, give him a bath and clean up the house. "The boy is more and more naughty whereas my husband and I are older and weaker, but we still try to help," she said.
But Tam suffers from high blood pressure and rheumatism, so sometimes she felt too tired. "If only I can do morning exercises or take part in a retired officials' leisure club, my condition will improve," she said.
The National Institute of Nutrition's latest research showed that 95 per cent of 8.1 million over-60-year-old people across the country suffered from arthritis, respiration, cardiovascular diseases and digestion.
Ngo Ha Phuong, a doctor at the institute said that improved living standards plus the lack of leisure activities and daily exercise kept many elderly people unhealthy. France has one of the highest number of elderly people in the world, but the rate of those suffering from cardiovascular diseases is the lowest in the Europe. To take care of their cardiovascular system, many elderly French people take part in jogging, climbing mountains, cycling and swimming.
Vietnamese elderly are not healthy although they live longer than formerly, she said. Recently the National Assembly approved an amended Labour Law giving women six months' maternity leave instead of four months previously.
Law-makers might not have thought of the benefit they were providing grandparents because the main purpose of their law is to improve mothers' and children's health. The elderly are never officially credited with being the main care-givers. Yet it does help to give them a little more time to be away from house chores is – and to take care of themselves.
Grandparents need much more than just six months away from their honorary jobs, but this has been totally ignored by society. Chairman of the Ha Noi Elderly People's Association Bui Xuan Ho said that loving their descendants and wanting to share their work was a long-standing tradition in Viet Nam. But the elderly should have time to enjoy their old age and take care of themselves.
"Each family should set up their own regulations and policy on how to free the elderly from housework and create good condition for them to join activities to improve their health," he said.
I'm not sure when and how each family can set up such a policy, but if each agrees on the need, it would be a "green" sign for us along the path of improving the health of elderly people to make it as good as in other countries. — VNS