The government should consider building nursing homes to provide full medical care to the elderly since official statistics show the number of retired people in Oman will reach 65,000 by 2018.
It is now obvious that the once close-knit families are fast disintegrating in Oman as young couples set up their own homes after marriage, leaving behind old people with no one to look after them. The statistics from the manpower ministry and the civil service show that about two per cent Omanis retire every year. There are no statistics for self-employed who retire from their businesses.
In some cases, when one of the parents dies, the surviving one is forced to live alone, unable to look after himself or herself, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs. This is more common in the regional towns where the children work during the week in Muscat and only return to their home towns at the weekend.
Care at home
Doctors in government hospitals say things become worse when the elderly fall sick. They are concerned that many old people, after completing their medical treatment, do not receive the required level of care at home after they are discharged. One of the biggest worries is the rising number of dementia patients.
In 1990, less than 500 elderly people were registered as suffering from dementia. Now, more than 4,000 are under treatment. Doctors say receiving medical treatment is not enough. Dementia, especially among the elderly, needs 24-hour home care which their children are not able to provide. Professional commitments and the burden of looking after their own families leave them with no time to look after their sick parents.
Some children leave the task of looking after their sick parents to housemaids. Police records show that the elderly suffer abuse at the hands of housemaids when they are left alone with them.
The experience traumatises old people and they start suffering from psychological problems when they know their children leave them in the care of strangers. Those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer diseases are not in a position to complain because the diseases leave them badly disoriented. For the bed-ridden elderly who need 24-hour medical care, home care alone is not enough. They need medical equipment like oxygen or a special bed and in some cases, the attention of a regular qualified nurse.
Most people in Oman cannot afford such expenses. They would also need to stay at home to make sure their parents receive all they need which means quitting their jobs. Having national care nursing homes for the elderly will make things much easier. It will also not force people to resign from their jobs and stay at home.
At the moment, many people are torn between looking after their own families and elderly parents. Many would say it would be an extra financial burden for the government to build such an expensive infrastructure. Another way is to introduce a national health care insurance controlled by the government where people would contribute a small percentage of their wages to finance it. Once people are convinced of the benefits, they would pay to make sure they can access the medical care they need when they become old.
It would be wrong to assume that children in this part of the world always look after their old parents. In a changing world, the local society is not immune to modern demands when one family is faced with rising costs of raising children, including their expensive education that leaves no room for costly medical bills on account of parents.
The GCC countries like the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait already have nursing care for the elderly and Oman does not want to be left behind. In these countries, they know that looking after sick old parents is never easy. However, we need to overcome the taboo that it is a shame to leave your old parents in a home but when you cannot do it yourself, what other alternative one has?
Either they are vulnerable to abuse by housemaids or one has to leave one's job and struggle with the bills. Various studies show that elderly people in nursing homes live longer, and not only they receive better care but they live with other people of the same age and they have constant companionship.
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