I think the way we treat our elderly in this country is a serious problem, but one that might not be easy to fix. Personally, I regret not visiting my grandfather (pictured below), who passed away last week, more often. But work, kids, and a 400+ mile distance kept me away more than I would have liked. So this new policy in China kind of makes sense to me.
A new law went into effect Monday that requires Chinese citizens to care for their elderly parents (and I’m assuming other elderly relatives who might end up on someone’s care). This includes regular phone calls and visits, and is intended to “protect the lawful rights and interests of the parents ages 60 and older, and to carry out the Chinese virtue of filial piety,” according to the official China Daily news.
The law gives elderly folks leverage to use on their children and relatives, allowing them the right to ask for mediation or even file a law suit in more serious cases. The law even takes into consideration people who don’t live near their loved one, requiring employers to allow their workers time off for their visits.
Chinese demographics specialists are linking the need for this law to the one child policy, but I could see how a similar law here in the U.S. could have value. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, more than one in 10 elderly people experience some form of abuse, but only one in 23 are reported.
One reason for the pervasiveness of elder abuse is that many people leave their elderly relatives to languish in a nursing home for years before they pass away. Elderly people who are left alone are way more likely to be abused or simply neglected than if they had an attentive relative frequently there to ask questions.
A month before my grandfather passed away, he fell and broke his hip. My family and I (most notably my wonderful mom) were thankfully able and willing to take the time off needed to stay with him during his time of need. This was important not just to comfort him but to make sure he was getting the care (and respect) he deserved.
Not every family is able to do this. What happens then? It would be great to see companies change their policies to allow workers time off to care for their elders– more than just FMLA. But I just don’t see that happening when it doesn’t do anything for the company’s bottom line. That’s where the government should step in so that no one gets left behind, because I think the people who helped shape the current generations deserve at least that much.