Growing Old in Indonesia

Yesterday I attended a friend‘s half-thesis defense on the subject of Aging in Place. In essence, her project aims to discover ideas on how to design Smart House technology that will help maintain social contact for elderly people who are living alone.

I am fortunate enough to have three grandparents alive and well, and they are currently living with my aunts and uncles. It is my basic understanding that the Indonesian, and perhaps the wider Asian, culture dictates that the responsibility to care for the elderly falls on the children. The Singaporean government even goes as far as making that “cultural” attribute into a national law, thus allowing parents to take their children to court for inadequate support/care.

However, as my friend’s thesis suggests, social contact (as well as financial support) plays a vital role in the well-being of elderly people. Though living with their children and grandchildren provides *some* social life, today’s busy and fast-paced lifestyle might mean that this benefit from living with family is overstated. The now-adult children will be out during the day in the office, and the kids will be busy with schools, friends, music lessons and extra tutorials. This means that the grandparents would be left most of the day at home, alone with the maids.

Over-protective family could also lead to safety measures that limit the movement of the elderly outside their homes. In developed nations such as Australia and England, I can see a large number of elderly people out and about: in the city, on public transportation, and even in University. In my opinion, public safety and facilities are the main reason that allows this freedom and independence for them to brave the busy hectic world that is usually reserved in Indonesia for the young and healthy (and brave?).

Perhaps a simple solution would be similar to SAGE. Here, while they do not provide around-the-clock live-in accommodation, they provide a venue for the elderly to meet and socialise — something similar to YMCA for the youth perhaps? I think this is an amazing idea: to provide activities suited to the aging population, where they can meet others from the same generation. It’s hard enough to make and keep friends for the able-bodied, with Jakarta’s infamous traffic jams and the growth of sprawling urban cities. I can only imagine how hard it is for my grandparents to meet and make new friends. An organisation such as SAGE provide a mutual meeting point for the elderly, allowing them to continue exercise their physical and mental capability while simultaneously fulfilling their social needs. Numerous research has proven that a healthy social life can contribute to their health. The “center” also provides the additional benefits for the adult children as they do not have to worry about leaving their aging parents alone at home. They can safely be assured that there are other people around to keep a watchful eye on their parents, and provide fast notice and help in case of an emergency. Maybe instead of drawing an analogy with YMCA, perhaps it’s more similar to a daycare service for kids with working parents?

I am interested to hear if there is a similar facility in Indonesia. It could perhaps be joined with an existing retirement home, where elderly people who are staying with their family outside could still (maybe for a nominal fee) come in to join the activities and use the facilities provided by the retirement home. It’ll provide additional income for the retirement home, and new friends to those people in the retirement home (especially beneficial if we assume that they are living in the retirement homes precisely because they do not have family outside to care for them).

This post is dedicated to my beloved grandparents in Jakarta and Lampung… and the one I’ve never met.

Pictures are taken from here and here.

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