Are nursing homes a good option for our seniors or are they a selfish alternative? Staff writer, Dina Khadr, speaks to nursing homes, seniors and their children to find out whether Egypt is breaking the taboo surrounding placing our parents in these institutions.
“I’m happy but I want to go home ba2a,” announces haj Mohammed* as his big eyes look pleadingly at me. He then turns his attention back to the TV hanging on the barren wall in the middle of one of the retirement home in Cairo's most prominent areas; as if he were not just engaged in a conversation. Haj Mohammed* along with haj Ali* and the rest of the residents of the nursing home have found a permanent lodging in the institute although the reality of it seems to have not set in with all the occupants.
Haj Mohammed* - who’s been at the institution for three months - hasn’t been back home since his arrival. Suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s, his unfocused gaze seems to flutter between his companion haj Ali* and the television; as he sits, adorned in a grey galabeya, looking minuscule against the backdrop of a darkened yet spacious room, devoid of sunlight. Convinced that he is only there temporarily, he reiterates, "I live between here and my home. I have a five storey house that I built. I’m happy here but I’m waiting to go back. Adeeny 2a3ed odam el telefezion 3obal marga3."Nursing homes in Egypt are a relatively new concept with much of society regarding the families who choose to place their parents under the care of those who are essentially strangers, with a look of disdain. The practice – which is common in western culture – seems to still be regarded with criticism and a skepticism in the Middle East. Socially viewed as a lack of gratitude from children towards their parents, families are often torn between wanting to provide their parents with the necessary care and the worry of society's view on their decision. What are they to do when they’re not in a position to afford 24/7 nursing care for their parent at home or when they work around the clock with parents that need medical care?
Hoda Adel, mother of two put both her parents in a nursing home, Dar Fouad Habib, over five years ago. While she still retains glimmers of guilt that resurface ever so often, she stands by her decision.
Sometimes I still do feel guilty in the sense that I wonder if I could have done something more.
“Initially, I had doubts about whether it is - to a certain extent - selfish of me to put them in an old folks home. But when I thought about it logically, it seemed like the right one. They were living alone in Masr El Gedeeda and the expenses of in-house nursing were ridiculous,” justifies Adel. “Not to mention that we also had maids yet the house was never clean, things would go missing a lot and the nurses were flaky sometimes when we didn’t keep an eye on them. With all that effort and those expenses, we still had no peace of mind. Everything was a mess.”
Adel took the decision on her own, reverting only to her eldest daughter and her husband, both of whom supported her.
“Sometimes I still do feel guilty in the sense that I wonder if I could have done something more. But I’m doing everything I can to make up for whatever doubt or guilt I may have because I’m convinced that this was in their best interest. I couldn’t provide them with the care they needed,” says Adel. “Besides I involved them in the decision. I asked them what they thought about it and the deal was always ‘try it out and if it doesn’t work out, we can always figure out an alternative'.77-year-old Laila Adel, loves her retirement home and happily requests her daily dose of lemon candies – her favourite - whenever her daughter, Adel comes for a visit.
“I have my friends here. It's great because I always have someone to stay up late with and chat with. Sometimes the men even get flirty with me,” jokes Adel’s mother.
As the barriers surrounding the idea of nursing homes in Egypt gradually start to disappear, families who do decide to take the plunge sport a relatively positive and logical approach towards the matter. Hana*, head nurse in a retirement home located in one of Cairo’s upper class areas finds the private institutions to be the logical solution. Having appeared as a natural progression to social nursing homes - which survive mainly on donations – private nursing homes are equipped to handle seniors with mental disorders as well as physical ones.
Some of the seniors - that are relatively lucid - do get upset.
“There are two types of nursing homes, the first type is more of a ma2wa for those who don’t have anyone to care for them or no kids and don’t have anywhere to go. It’s a social service basically. The second type however, which appeared recently is breaking this negative connotation that surrounds the idea of retirement homes,” explains Hana. “Private nursing homes – the second type - have staff giving round the clock services as well as ensuring that these seniors keep their sugar levels and blood pressure in check. They handle the things that the families can’t and the type of medical complications which we all succumb to eventually with old age.”
Hana* emphasise that society is starting to change its perception out of necessity rather than anything else due to the nature of the family structures in modern day Egypt which sees most of its members working and leading relatively independent lives.
“The trend of private nursing homes appeared recently as more families are immersed in their work lives, their personal lives and are basically out of the house 90% of the time. Today, women work as much as men do so there’s no one home to care for our elders and give them the required attention, be it medical or otherwise,” says Hana* of society’s shifting attitudes. “The mentality of ‘oh I’m throwing my parents - who cared for me my whole life - out and onto someone else,' is slowly disappearing. Retirement homes are actually the better option for someone who’s working. I can’t give my parents the right medical care and can’t be watching over them all day long so why not put them somewhere that actually can?”When asked whether the seniors living in these homes are happy or resentful at their children’s decision, Hana* explains that while there may be a few that are disgruntled at the thought, many hold a grateful attitude towards their kids.
“Some of the seniors - that are relatively lucid - do get upset. But even they admit that they feel lonely at home with everyone out, going about their daily chores and leaving them to feeling disregarded. Others are very appreciative and actually feel like more of a burden for having their children pay so much. For those, their kids have done right by them,” says Hana*, head nurse at one of Cairo’s nursing homes.
After a certain age, we all revert back to being like babies so the kids who can’t afford or provide their parents with proper care bring them here.
While there have been improvements and a growingly lenient attitude when it comes to nursing homes in Egypt, there is still somewhat of a taboo attached to it. As such, there hasn't been an extensive amount of research done in the field and as a result the required amount of funding and capital fails to finds its way to these homes. Several of these homes, while well equipped, are somewhat neglected in terms of their appearance and the little psychological pick-me ups such as flowers, sunlight and colourful interiors which ultimately feed into a healthy psyche. That being said, for the most part the residents of these nursing homes still find themselves content with the attention they're being given and the company they find within these establishments, regardless of any shortcomings.
“After a certain age, we all revert back to being like babies so the kids who can’t afford or provide their parents with proper care bring them here. Sometimes, it’s temporary if the parent has had an accident. Usually, they’re the ones who come visit the most and do everything within their power to make sure their parents are comfortable,” explains Hana. “One woman came of her own accord after she’d fainted and was found in her apartment a day later because she was on her own.”
Haj Mohammed was put in the home a few months back when his kids could no longer care for him. The ex-radio and television employee reluctantly turns his gaze away from the show entrancing him and his comrades to give his two cents.
“My kids put me here when my wife passed away. She passed away four months ago,” haj Mohammed says in close to a whisper as his eyes begin to show signs of tears. “I’ve made friends here though and my kids visit me every day. Besides I’m only here temporarily. I am happy but I wanna go home ba2a."
*The names of some of the interviewees have been changed to protect their privacy.