In general, society considers the elderly as persons above the ages of sixty or sixty-five. This is usually the beginning of old age as a person becomes less active in political, social and economic affairs. Though there are elderly persons who are in good health and active members of their communities, majority are the ones whose physical and mental functions are on the decline. Since they are not able to get along on their own, majority of the elderly persons require attention and care from their loved ones as well as friends. Consequently, psychologists use the term elderly care to refer to the personal as well as medical attention that this group of the population receives.
It is evident that elderly care takes a variety of forms, ranging from personal care such as feeding and dressing, to medical attention. In addition, the care that a family chooses for its elderly persons will depend on their needs. This is because some of the elderly persons may still be in good health while others may be frail. Consequently, some of them may require home-based care while others may need specialized attention in a nursing home or in a hospital. Whatever the case, the elderly do need some form of care.
In this study, I shall focus on the American culture and the Asian culture, and make comparisons between the two, in relation to the aspect of caring for the elderly. For the Asian culture, I shall examine the Japanese. In both United States of America and Japan, the number of elderly persons is on the increase. This means that both governments have to consider and put in place the best mechanisms to cater for this group of the population. Different communities accord the elderly different forms of care, depending on how their cultures dictate. The way a community perceives old age will therefore affect the manner in which it treats the elderly.
The responsibility of caring for the elderly in Caucasian and Japanese cultures lies mainly with the woman, because these societies consider her as an innate caregiver due to her maternal abilities and instincts. However, this is also due to the fact that, over the years, the woman has fewer opportunities in the economic scene, and as a result, she remains at home most of the time to take care of her children and the elderly. On the other hand, when the woman is able to access the labor market, she finds herself in positions where she has to provide care for others. Most nurses, school and hospital matrons are women. However, in the above cultures, children also participate in elderly care, as a form of compensation for the nurture their parents gave them when they were young.
The American society places a lot of emphasis on staying young. Consequently, as Samovar et. al. (2009) notes “we find a culture that prefers youth to old age.” (p.71). This negative perception of old age makes the young people avoid staying together with the elderly and caring for them. The older adult population rather than the young adults are the ones taking care of the elderly. This explains why some families in the United States give over their old relatives to nursing homes. This does not however mean that the young cut all their links with their elderly relatives. They do provide support and maintain contact with them. The nursing homes are an option for the elderly people who have no family or relatives to look after them at home. This is especially the case for those who are physically handicapped and require the help of another person to take care of them.
Though the nursing homes have become the choice for most families with elderly relatives, they do have their limitations. Some of these institutions for the elderly have become money-making ventures, therefore reducing their emphasis on the needs of the elderly. Poor hygiene and lack of trained medical personnel and quality treatment as well as poor feeding programs are some of the problems the elderly face in these nursing homes. Moreover, placing the elderly in nursing homes limits their freedoms as they have to follow the stipulated program. They cannot choose when to feed, sleep, interact with their fellow housemates and cannot keep their belongings. However, nursing homes for the elderly still remain the option for most American families, as there has not been much success with home-based care.
On a positive note, the elderly persons in American society have more groups of friends and neighbors whom they can go to for support, than the aged people in Japanese society. This means that the American elderly are likely to receive care from their friends and neighbors, apart from their immediate family members. However, the Americans usually tend to give special care to their elderly only after they learn that the latter are facing a medical problem.
However, since the family is still the main caregiver for the elderly, some of the American families employ professional nurses to take care of their old at home, instead of sending them away to nursing homes. Another reason for this is that, institutions for taking care of the elderly are expensive, and some of these families are not able to afford them. Moreover, some families opt to take their elderly to day nursing institutions, where they receive care throughout the day and then return home in the evening. This is suitable for those people who are working and cannot stay with the elderly relatives during the day as they have to report to work. It is also convenient for working adults who cannot afford specialized care for their elderly ones, either at home or in a nursing institution.
In some instances, the elderly person may be able to live in his or her own house, and may be strong enough not to require specialized attention and care. In such cases, the family members of such an elderly person find a house near other aged people, in areas where the amenities they need on a day-to-day basis are readily available. This form of elderly care appeals to the community and involves them in taking responsibility for this group of the population.
On the economic front, some of the big corporate organizations have introduced benefit schemes for their employees, in order to help them in caring for their elderly relatives. This is because most companies want to avoid losses in production, due to having employees who have to work while at the same time take care of their elderly relatives. Some companies also provide home-based care services for the elderly, but as a profit-making venture. This however, has a negative side to it as these privatized services are costly and not many families are able to afford them.
On the other hand, Asian culture of the Japanese has a positive perception of the elderly. It teaches the children to respect and care for the elderly. The Japanese consider the family as the prime caregiver for their elderly, and in this case, it is usually a female member of the family who carries out this duty. This is because the Japanese believe that it is not in order to take the elderly to a nursing home as this is equivalent to neglecting one’s responsibility of taking care of one’s parents. This also makes the Japanese families give the required care to their elderly relatives throughout their old age, rather than only when they are facing a health problem.
In the case of aged people who are not related to the family, Japanese wives or their daughters are the ones who tend to give their elderly friends the care they need. Sometimes, the daughters-in-law also give care to the elderly, especially if the patient is female. However, if other friends and non relatives are living under the same roof with the elderly persons, they may provide the necessary care to the latter. This is in contrast to the case of the American elderly who receive care from their family as well as friends and neighbors.
In Japan, the activity of giving care to the elderly is mainly as an act of duty, rather than voluntary will. The caregiver considers this act as one that he or she has to give, and in most cases, the Japanese wife will provide the elderly attention at her husband’s request. The dependence of the Japanese elderly on their immediate family is also evident in the fact that most of them rely on their spouses and their children for financial support. Since the Japanese believe that giving the elderly care is a woman’s job, the men usually leave this task to their wives. However, though the Japanese men are away from home most of the time, they also contribute to elderly care by giving their spouses financial as well as emotional assistance. Again, by participating in looking after their children, they allow their wives to find time to take care of the elderly members of the family.
Elderly care in Japan still remains largely in the hands of the family, especially for those who are not sickly and in need of specialized medical attention. However, caring for the elderly at home is no longer the only option, and families have begun taking the old to nursing homes. This is due to a number of reasons such as the aging of the family members providing the care as well as the increasing involvement of the Japanese women in formal training and employment. Moreover, Japanese families are not living in large numbers as they did in the past.
However, the number of nursing homes for the elderly and professional caregivers is on the decrease because of the Japanese belief that it is the immediate family which bears the responsibility of taking care of their elderly relatives. The elderly who are in need of very little personal and health care remain at home, but get visits from personnel who attend to them. This happens either a few times a week or every day depending on the needs of the elderly person. Due to the rising demand for health caregivers for the elderly, Japan has sought the help of care personnel from the Philippines. These caregivers are more experienced and are willing to work at a low pay.
Due to the increase in the elderly population, financial resources have not been enough to allow families to put their relatives under specialized care at home and in nursing institutions. It is due to this situation that hospitals in Japan have offered to accommodate the elderly who are in need of both personal as well as medical attention. This way, the elderly in Japan can access long-term care. Though on a small-scale, the Japanese elderly engage in volunteering programs where they offer services to the community and in turn, they receive personal as well as medical care.
There are however some similarities in the aspects of elderly care in American and Japanese cultures. Care for the elderly is still one of the concerns of both the United States and Japanese governments, though they differ in their policies. America gives priority to provision of medical attention, pension for retirees and shelter, while the Japanese government came up with policies to put in place insurance for every citizen including the elderly, for a long-term period. In both countries, the increase in aging members of the population has put a lot of pressure on the medical as well as retirement schemes. However, technological advances in medicine have increased and they are being used to improve the life-expectancy levels of the American and Japanese aging populations. Again, since women are increasingly going into formal employment, the men in both countries are also becoming more and more involved in elderly care.
In conclusion, due to lifestyle changes, many people have started living in smaller groups and families, and are also located far from each other. Consequently, caring for the elderly can no longer be the responsibility of the immediate family alone, but has to be a prerogative of governments, non governmental organizations as well as private institutions.