When you get old…

She usually calls me a few times a week, especially when she first came to see us.

This is a woman in her late 70s. She has 3 daughter, 2 married, one lives in Singapore and another in the UK. She lives with her youngest daughter who is still single. Although she does her best for her mother, her work is usually very busy and occupies most of her time during the week.

This woman has problems getting into sleep, so she used to take alcohol to aid sleeping. Then she had problems with her heart arteries and had to go for coronary angioplasty twice. Since the discharge her physical health deteriorated. She can no longer move around freely like she used to be, take alcohol the way she wanted it, do her daily chores like going to the market, cooking, visiting friends, walking around etc.

She spends most of the time alone in the house, not doing much. She can’t do much work as she feel her limbs have no strength (to even take up a pot filled with water). She isn’t interested in watching TV or reading papers. The elder daughter bought her an iPad and tried to teach her playing games and using Skype to connect with her grandchildren overseas, but she gave up learning half way. What’s worse, now that she isn’t allowed to take alcohol, she couldn’t sleep at all, could only sleep for few hours taking sleeping pills.

She sees no purpose of her life, and thinks very negatively. She can’t see hopes and meaning of her life. Whatever suggestions and advice made to her, she finds excuses to dispute them (symptoms of depression). When I told her how negatively she has been thinking, and all this negativity comes from her illness, not from herself; and when she’s well, she wouldn’t behave, think and feel this way at all, she doesn’t believe it – she sees no “negativity”, she thinks all these feelings and thinking are completely normal, anyone in her shoes would experience the same cognition and emotions.

In some countries the suicidal rates in the elderly are very high, I don’t have the statistics in Malaysia, but I’m sure there’re quite a number of them suffering in silence. Asian cultures place enormous value on filial piety which includes caring for the elderly (especially parents) when they can no longer look after themselves, but still, this is not always possible, so it’s important to have a plan in mind, whether it’s to have a partner with you (not necessary a spouse) and look after each other, to live in the old folks house with the others, or get a private carer.

But while you’re still young, look after your physical and mental health, be prepared for it before you get there, and take good care of your body now so that it’s fit for you to go a long way!

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