Like the rest of Asia, Thailand, already an aging society, will soon become an aged society by 2022, according to the UN World Population Prospects. This means that those aged 65 and over will form more than 14% of the entire population. The implication of this trend will undoubtedly be widespread. Most evidently, the transition into an aged society without adaptations will result in dire labor shortages, diminishing Thailand’s economic productivity—a crisis already taking shape in Japan. To make matters worse, the obligation to take care of one’s elderly parents—still a sacred norm in Thai society—will force the dwindling workforce to spread itself even thinner, further diminishing an adult’s efficiency as a member of the labor force as well as a contributing taxpayer. Nursing homes could thus serve an essential function to relieve the working population of this growing burden.
In spite of a growing need, a survey conducted by Ipsos in Thailand found that over 9 in 10 Thais do not plan to send their parents to a nursing home, with a not-insignificant percentage perceiving those with plans to do so negatively. Norms and lingering negative perceptions appear to be key barriers. Meanwhile, the survey point to changes in attitude already underway, especially amongst the younger generations.
Proximity and “Filial Piety” Big Factors for Refusal
Almost three-quarters (73%) of those without plans to send their parents to a nursing home cite proximity as a key reason for rejecting it. In other words, they prefer to have their parents live with them for easier care as well as closer contact. However, when asked about their perceptions of those with plans to send their parents to a nursing home, a significant portion sees this choice as a reflection of the children’s irresponsibility and impiety—both in violation of traditional practices. Given these perceptions, an ulterior motive seems to emerge: fear of judgment by a society still very much attached to traditional values.
Tradition Not the Only Factor at Play
On the other hand, a number of nursing home rejecters (21%) remain concerned that their parents would be mistreated or subject to subpar conditions at the nursing home. Synthesio, Ipsos’s proprietary social intelligence tool, unearthed various online comments reporting mistreatment of patients in Thai nursing homes, which further reinforces this concern. These realities suggest that traditional norms are not the only factor contributing to Thai society’s rejection of nursing homes. The perception that the decision to send their elderly parents to nursing homes is considered “ungrateful” or “irresponsible” may be worsened by the unsatisfactory state of nursing homes available on the Thai market.
Nursing Homes’ Close Care a Big Draw
Despite negative perceptions, nursing homes appear to serve a critical function to various families. Amongst those with plans to send their parents to a nursing home, almost half (48%) cite the need for attentive care of their parents, especially in matters of treatment and medication, while 26% do not have enough time to take care of their parents. This underscores the necessity of nursing homes to reassure prospective clients and patients with unique needs of their commitment to quality care and professionalism.
Opportunities Remain for Nursing Homes
Even so, these results also indicate some shifts in attitude towards nursing homes. For those without plans to send their parents to a nursing home, half of them understand that circumstances unique to each family could be behind their decision in favor of nursing homes. Similarly, 57% say that they would respect their parents’ choice to live in a nursing home. Another 15% of the rejecters would change their perception to match the society’s consensus — should it change. Most significantly, there is a higher percentage of those indicating that they plan to send their parents to a nursing home amongst those aged between 18 and 29. All of these signal the high likelihood that nursing homes will soon enjoy wider acceptance amongst Thais.
Still, operators of nursing homes and health-care professionals cannot simply wait for the winds of change. To accelerate these evolutions in public opinion, they must not neglect to understand underlying concerns from parents, whose opinions hold significant sway over such a decision. Furthermore, an effective communications strategy could go a long way to redefine nursing homes as places where children can demonstrate responsibility and filial piety to their parents by entrusting them to the care of qualified professionals. Of course, this must be reinforced by positive patient experience, in order to firmly reassure Thais of nursing homes’ commitment to quality care, patients’ welfare as well as professionalism. Ultimately, only with a change in attitude can nursing home operators tap into a massive opportunity driven by the ongoing demographic shift.