UAE Indians seek help to care for elderly back home

UAE's Indian expatriates mull option of getting an agency in India to provide care and company to their aged relatives back home.

Rashmi Malik would like to spend more time with her ageing mother in India but living in the UAE prevents her from doing so. Delores Johnson / The National
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DUBAI // Though Rashmi Malik, a Dubai expatriate, visits her ageing mother in India at least twice a year, she wishes she lived closer and could spend more quality time with her.

But with her family settled in the UAE, it is not feasible.

"We visit her fairly frequently in Pune," said Mrs Malik, 53. "There are lots of things we do together when I go. We go to see a play, go out for coffee. I do wish I could see her more often but she likes to live on her own. We worry because we are far away."

However, with an Indian agency now promising companionship and assistance to ageing, loved ones back home, expatriate or non-resident Indians (NRIs) like Mrs Malik believe a perfect solution may be at hand.

She was among a group who attended a presentation by Epoch Elder Care - a year-old agency that offers at-home professional care for the elderly in Indian cities - on Thursday at The Shelter in Al Quoz.

The caregiver promises companionship and will take clients for coffee and shopping, will help them make friends, will play games and assist them in learning technology.

Besides social outings, the agency's staff, who visit every day or alternate days for an hour or two, also monitor their client's health, help make medical appointments and provide assistance to older people suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia.

"I'd like things that are offered to her to keep her active and help her with her interests, maybe take her for a movie and chat with her or help her take up an activity that she may not have considered before," Mrs Malik said.

According to the 2011 census, India has 100 million people over the age of 65, second only to China. While this accounts for only 8 per cent of the population, the number is expected to double by 2040.

Homes for the elderly are often frowned upon by Indians, who believe looking after old people is the responsibility of their children.

Though it is common for older people to employ full-time domestic help for household chores, expatriates like Devika Harish, 40, believe health issues and boredom are bigger concerns for her ageing parents and in-laws.

"Malls and movies don't interest them any more," said Mrs Harish. "They are keen on social activities, get-togethers, maybe a cooking class or a club for older people. A lot of people go for religious classes, but that does not work for everyone. The challenge is health, boredom and companionship."

Mrs Harish, who also attended the event on Thursday, said the lack of assistance during regular hospital check-ups was a major issue faced by her family.

"A lot of the time, mum has to do the administrative work and has to run around while dad is waiting alone in the hospital room," she said. "Since we have chosen to move away from our parents and in-laws, it has its implications. When we moved to Dubai 13 years ago, we did not realise what ageing was.

"With my parents going through health issues, it's become daunting. At this stage, we are not there with them. They don't want us to move back because they know we have our commitments. And they prefer to be grounded in their environment. They find comfort in their own home."

Epoch Elder Care, which is targeting its first overseas clientele in the UAE, said this was the vacuum it intended to fill.

"We try to be a companion and a friend," said Kabir Chadha, the agency's founder and chief executive, who was in Dubai to speak to expatriate Indians. "We provide care like a son or daughter would. We try to emotionally bond, do fun things and provide intellectual companionship.

"NRIs fall into a trap. During the one week they come to India, they do chores. They fix appointments, take them to doctors and put a system in place so they feel good. But, they don't get time to watch a movie with mum or dad. We provide companionship and help with the chores."

Since the UAE was "one of the top six countries" where Indians lived and parents were the "top five" issues on an expatriate's mind, he said his agency had chosen the Emirates as its first destination. The clients of Epoch Elder Care are between 58 and 90-years-old.

But the care comes at a price.

Epoch charges between 11,000 rupees (Dh740) and 16,500 rupees (Dh1,110) per month, depending on the frequency of visits, which may not be affordable to everyone.

"Certainly cost will be an issue," said Alka Malik, 43, the sister-in-law of Rashmi. "It depends on the advantages. I am very much interested in the services being offered. It is something of a concern for all of us living here."

She said she felt guilty that her parents and in-laws had to fend for themselves in India.

"Moving here is not an option. This country is not geared for older people in terms of sheer company. They are probably lonelier here and bored out of their brains ... India is not an easy place to live. Running a household even for a young couple isn't easy."

Ms Malik said she would, however, weigh the advantages before opting for professional care.