Article by Alexandra Sutcliffe
It started out as an amusing story. A friend of mine, exhausted from looking after the mother he’d never got on with, mentioned he was considering sending her to a care home in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. So that’s what people are doing these days, I warned my 85 year old mother during a subsequent visit. They’re exporting their oldies to Asia.
Her eyes lit up, possibly remembering The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its spin-off reality TV series. Would they have a website, she wondered, and could we take a look…?
They did, and the care home was stunning, with generous-sized chalets located in lush, tropical gardens, some of which overlook a lake, as well as swimming pools, a restaurant serving Thai and international cuisine, and round-the-clock care by smiling, fully-trained Thai staff. All this for a lot less money than many care homes in the UK.
Perhaps it was the gin and tonics we were sipping as we conducted our research, but the idea became increasingly less outlandish. My mother has always been practical, believing that in old age, you should move before you have to. Following my father’s sudden death, she herself moved to an apartment in a small Somerset town, where she could walk everywhere and not have a garden to worry about. But her apartment, as beautiful as it is, has recently been causing her stress, with its roof and windows all needing costly repairs. Nowadays she finds walking more difficult, and so drives everywhere, but is fully aware that the time will come when this is no longer an option.
What are the pros and cons?
We went over the practicalities, and found the pros totally outweighing the cons.
Get your friends to talk you out of it, I urged her. Is there something we’re missing? She did, and their reactions, which I list below, have been interesting:
What about all your furniture, and will you be taking it with you?
Channelling her inner Zen Buddhist, my mother insists she has no need for material possessions, and will happily sell the lot.
What about all that upheaval?
Yes, but any move requires upheaval, and moving into any care home requires the sale of most of your possessions. For my mother, it’s important to get the upheaval done while she’s in charge, and long before she becomes vulnerable and confused.
What about all your friends? Won’t you get lonely?
The fact is, many of her friends have already died, while some are moving away and others she only has phone contact with anyway – and there will be phone and unlimited wifi in Thailand. Providing she remembers the time difference, she will easily be able to keep in touch. Besides, with loneliness on the rise amongst the aged in the UK, there are no guarantees of not getting lonely at home.
Wouldn’t you want your own kitchen?
This friend clearly doesn’t realise how much my mother’s always hated cooking – and anything domestic, for that matter! She loves the idea of having three delicious meals a day prepared for her and no washing up afterwards. Bliss.
Isn’t it hot and humid?
Yes, it is, but there is air-conditioning and she won’t be a tourist, rushing around from one landmark to another. Plus the warm climate, I suspect, will be good for her aching bones and arthritis.
It’s so far away!
This is true, but then, when she can no longer drive, everywhere will be far away – her friends, the supermarket, the Bridge club – none of these will be accessible when she has to give up her car.
No nagging worries, no chores, an affordable lifestyle, a beautiful setting, caring staff and enthusiastic and frequent visits by her daughter – all this sounds increasingly appealing.
Yes, she will need to take out medical insurance, but there are several good hospitals in Chiang Mai, the standards are high and medical expenses, from what I gather, relatively low.
Far from being outlandish, weeks later the move still seems doable – even without the gin and tonics! With recent reports of abuse towards the elderly, both in care homes and during house visits, it seems that growing old in the UK leaves much to be desired. If all goes well, I can see Chiang Mai giving my mother a whole new lease of life.
We will visit later this year before making a decision. The celebrities of The Real Marigold on Tour paid the city a recent visit, and all seemed extremely positive about the experience. I hope we shall feel the same.
Alexandra Sutcliffe is a writer and life coach who specialises in creative and energy coaching. She is currently offering a 50% discount to Fab After Fifty readers – just mention this website when you contact her.