I Love My Parents: China’s New Law and the Debate on Nursing Homes

My good friends could tell you that I am highly affectionate. There is no one who would know this better than my parents, to whom I probably say “I love you” multiple times a day, if not an hour.

Because I love my parents greatly, I would not hesitate to say that, given a particular situation, I would definitely place them in a nursing home one day.

This statement might sound bold, but the topic has been on my mind lately. Recently, I had a lengthy discussion with friends, sparked after reading an unusual news story one morning during breakfast.

The Chinese government recently updated a law regarding the elderly, to stipulate that adult children need to visit their aged parents “often” or face getting sued. The reasoning? In China, there have been many elderly abuse/neglect cases surfacing, mostly credited to financial burdens related to China’s rapidly expanding population.

The word “neglect” often surfaces in discussions about nursing homes. This negative imagery might originate from the concept of almshouses. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, most elderly people ended up in these houses, particularly if they were from a lower class.  Almshouses were notorious for their less-than-ideal conditions, and were seen as “symbols of despair and failure.”

Many people feel that adult children should do their best to personally care for their aging parents, including bringing them into their own homes. Some suggestions often include hiring a private nurse for feeding and giving medication, or having one spouse remain at home to care for the parent. This is a noble argument and one that deserves respect. If a family has the financial resources to manage it, it would be a great way to thank their parents. Parents not only raise, clothe and feed us, but also guide us to enter into the world independently.

However, this situation should not be viewed in such a black and white manner.

Nursing homes are designed to provide safe and adequate care 24/7. They are designed specifically to help older people who cannot safely perform basic daily functions necessary for their health and survival (eating, bathing, taking medication, etc). Good-quality nursing homes provide nutritious meals, entertainment, and best of all- companionship.

Private nurses are much more costly. Additionally, many elderly patients (particularly with different forms of dementia) need constant supervision. Some families often cannot afford financially to provide this constant care, (either by hiring a nurse or staying home) particularly if they need to work full-time to help pay for their parent’s medical bills. Additionally, most people do not have the training or knowledge necessary for dealing with patients with dementia or other illnesses, and may not be equipped to properly treat them on a daily basis.

Of course, nursing homes vary in the quality of care provided, and families should always take time when choosing. Also, regular visits will help the parent feel loved and secure in their new home.

Some people have argued that if you truly love your parents, you would do your best to make sure they can stay in your care. I personally feel that choosing to put a parent into a home should not be viewed as a sign of neglect, but as a demonstration of love.