Editor's Note: Robert Ganshorn was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front at Purdue University before creating one of the first Public Television documentaries on gay lifestyles broadcast during his graduate studies at Indiana University. Failing to become the Gay Walter Cronkite, he is retired from Ganshorn & Associates in Chicago and now lives in Thailand with his loving partner of 31 years.
Who is going to make sure you don't die from neglect? Lots of us hate thinking about it, and that is why I am writing about it.
Since the posting of Patricia Nell Warren on May 2nd regarding cuts to Medi Cal recipients, I have thought over my reasons for moving to Thailand. I left a house, community, friends and family members I care about to live as far away from them in the world as I could physically manage. Why would I do this? I believe strongly that there is an irresistible time bomb getting ready to explode as my "baby boom" generation retires. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid are going to become financially unsustainable if the past twenty years of "Medical cost inflation" is extended into the next twenty years. No matter what happens I foresee more cuts in "benefits" as far as the eye can see.
In a comment on Patricia's posting I pointed out how truly polite and respectful Thai people are to their elders. It is a fortunate, and undeserved from my perspective, facet of their culture. I mention this because in the western world Thailand equals sex tourism, or worse yet a place of haven for pedophiles. Tourism of all types is important to Thailand, but the seamy lowlife tourism is a small portion of this total. Generally people come here for a good relaxed vacation, but for a year round resident the amenities here mean much more.
On Friday, May 9th the Bangkok Post contained an article entitled "Northern Retreat, Foreign Alzheimer's patients find new home in Chaing Mai". The article specifically discusses a single Alzheimer's patient who had been an executive with Daimler-Benz until his diagnosis of his disease at age 63. The facility is Swiss owned, offers a home setting in individual houses including a guest bedroom for visitors, and 24 hour care at a better standard than available in Switzerland. The article continues:
Over the past few years, Thailand has steadily gained in popularity for elderly Westerners to retire. The number of registered Germans around Chaing Mai, for example, has increased from 600 to 1000 within the past eight years. Retirement homes boasting every comfort have sprung up, and there even is one facility for gay retirees...But the attitude of Thais towards older people is even more important than sheer financial concerns.
'Thai people are very considerate towards the elderly,' states Director of Care Woodtli a Swiss national, 'For them, it is almost a sacred duty to care for old people.' Unlike in Europe, Thais are not shy about the idea of touching an older person...and have no issues in giving them personal care. Woodtli got his idea to offer holidays and long-term stays for dementia patients after his experiences with his own mother,..."I couldn't nurse her myself anymore, but nursing homes in Switzerland were simply inadequate.
The director brought his mother to Thailand in 2002 and she died in 2006. In his words, during her time in Thailand she" blossomed."
This facility is used both for permanent care patients and short term care when primary care givers need a rest. The wife of the Daimler-Benz executive "had to put up with skeptical and malicious comments after her decision to send her husband to Thailand. Doctors warned about the tropical climate, the new surroundings, even the long flight that might harm her husband. The comments that she simply wanted to get rid of her husband hurt her deeply. So one day, she took her best friend with her to visit her husband in Chaing Mai. The friend was thrilled, which reassured her. She does not care about the gossip anymore stating: When I witness the loving care my husband receives here I am 100% certain that staying here is the best thing that could happen to him."
For those of us who have visited the elderly in a medicare income level senior citizens home in the States we know how awful conditions can be for poor elderly. Well, my dears, they are only going to get worse.
We would have to come a long way to catch up to be as good as Switzerland. Having an older life partner and a father who died with Alzheimer's I know that Thailand was the right decision for me too.
My father's psychiatrist insisted to me that I had no choice but placing my father in a nursing home. I asked this doctor to recommend a single nursing home in metropolitan Chicago which did not smell of stale urine. When he could offer no suggestions, I assured him that my decision for my father was the only one I could abide. Just as Medicare and Medi Cal payments are going to be frozen, there is an epidemic of age related diseases around the corner in my generation that was born between 1946 and 1964.
Think ahead, regardless of your present age, as to how much quality you would like when autumn comes to find you.