I've just read the attached BBC article about a Swiss woman, Sybille, who opted to send her Alzheimer's-stricken mother to Thailand for long-term care.
Deciding how to care for a parent or parents as they age is never an easy task to face, even in the best of circumstances. Determining how to balance the best possible care against health challenges and resource limitations can often seem like a losing battle, where all options feel like some sort of loss.
I'm lucky that my parents are still healthy and thriving, but I've witnessed the struggle they went through caring for my grandmother during the last five years of her life. They had it easier than some - my grandmother didn't have any major health issues, she was an easy-going and fun woman, and financially, my parents could afford for my mother to stay home and be her mother-in-law's primary care giver. Even so, there were many difficult calls to make along the way and it was not without its challenges for everyone involved.
Having participated in some of my family's decision making around my grandmother's well being, my heart goes out to people who have to make choices about the future of their parents' care with far less resource than we could afford.
I can't imagine the path Sybille, the woman from the article, had to walk to get reach the decision to send her mother to Thailand. Or what it must have felt like to board the plane with her mother, knowing that this woman would never return to her homeland again. I don't say this as a judgment but to acknowledge the heartache that must have accompanied the choice, even though it was the best option to meet the needs of both Sybille and her mother. For Sybille, the quality of care available in Thailand versus the price just could not compare to what she could have offered her mother in Switzerland. The article spells out the costs:
"In Switzerland, people are expected to contribute to costs amounting to anything between US$5,000 (£3,036) and $10,000 (£6,073) a month. In Thailand the figure is closer to US$3,000 (£1,821) a month - and that for a care package that is likely to be more comprehensive."
I wonder if solutions like this will become increasingly necessary while resources and options in the West continue to be insufficient to meet the needs of an ageing population. A similar idea was struck upon during Swiss Re's Open Minds Forum in Zürich last August, where one participant suggested that retirees be sent to Mozambique for its lower cost of living: https://openminds.swissre.com/stories/392/#c503 Could you imagine retiring in Mozambique? Or traveling all the way to Thailand to visit an elderly parent? Is it something you could or would do if you had the choice?
I can see the individual benefit of taking advantage of developing countries' relative affordability when it comes to retirement, health and long-term care. But thinking of the bigger picture, this solution seems like it might be a temporary work around. Ultimately, I believe better systems and resources to afford quality care for the elderly must be developed locally. But, like deciding how to best care for an ageing parent, I fear that taking steps to achieve this remains a daunting prospect.
Category: Funding longer lives: Long-term care