Sunday, April 6, 2014

Guest Post: The Cultural Divide... How We Care for Our Elderly Around the Globe

By Genevive Serrao

Placing our elderly relatives in a care home is a common practice in the Western world. But this practice is all but unheard of in the East, where they prefer to look after their own family members. Neither of these cultural differences seems to be wrong, but why are they are so far apart in terms of emotional and family-related care? Let’s take a closer look at the way that elders are treated in different parts of the world.

The West

We’ll kick off with the care of the elderly that we are most familiar with—in the Western world. Impersonal care characterizes our healthcare system and has many negative connotations for the elderly. In the not-so-distant past, elderly and ill relatives were sometimes moved into large and remote facilities, where abusive behavior was tolerated. Thankfully, nursing and retirement homes conditions have improved in recent times. The fact does remains: Why do so many families choose institutional care for their elderly loved ones?

Developing Countries

In the majority of poorer countries, nursing homes for the elderly simply do not exist. This may be due to financial constraints, but is probably more a result of cultural differences. Families tend to look after one another and that includes  parents, once they grow old and can no longer manage their own care. As these countries become more influenced by the west, it seems that some governments are looking into the possibility of private health care for the elderly population.


Japan’s growing number of older adults are becoming something of an issue in their traditional culture. It continues to be common for parents to live with their grown children until they die. With Japan’s considerable economy and personal wealth not being an issue, we are now witnessing an increase in private health care and retirement homes. 


With more than 2 billion people, you would imagine that the Chinese would have some type of care already in place for the expanding number of elders. Decision-makers in this Eastern powerhouse do not seem to consider that a real priority, though. Families continue to follow the old ways of looking after aging relatives until their demise. Families rely on hospitals primarily for short-term care and even serious illnesses. With the average life expectancy increasing every year, one wonders about how this will affect the typical Chinese household in 20 years’ time?

East Meets West

BBC recently reported that some families in Europe are opting to “export” their loved ones to care facilities are far away as Thailand, which has a “strong culture of looking after its elderly.” Costs are significantly lower for dementia care than in countries such as Switzerland, Germany and England, while the reputation for quality care is “very high.” Families stay in touch via Skype and the occasional visit. While this practice is not yet common, the number of families forced to send their family members continents away may inevitably increase along with the elder population. 

The Future?

With the rising costs of private care homes and the faltering economy, perhaps the West could learn from their Eastern counterparts and keep their aging parents a little closer to home during their later years. The reality is that families in the U.S. and abroad may want to care for their loved ones in their own homes, but, despite their best efforts and intentions, cannot cope with the overwhelming demands of caregiving.

About the Author

Genevive Serrao, the contributor of this article, works with All State Cremation, providers of simple cremation services in Hamden, CT. Genevive loves playing guitar and is a Jimi Hendrix fan. You can follow Genevive on Twitter (@SerraoGen).

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