Palm trees and a swimming pool, games and outings – this is not a holiday camp, but a care home for the elderly at Chiang Mai, in Thailand. The Baan Kamlangchay centre, run by a Swiss, accommodates patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Siegfried Seidel has a problem – the same that many Westerners in Thailand have. He is too tall and always bumps his head against the top of the door frame. For three months, the retired German biologist has been renting an apartment in Faham, a suburb of Chiang Mai, in the north of the country.
Apart from the bruises on his forehead, Seidel is enjoying his holiday. The Buddhist temples and the markets are not what interest him, though. What brought him to Thailand was the illness of his wife, Irene. “In 1999 she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I tried to put her in a care home in Germany. But she didn’t feel right there, and after four days I took her home,” he recalls.
At their home in Potsdam, the 78-year-old looks after his wheelchair-bound wife on his own. But amid the palm trees of Faham, he has time out to rest and think. He doesn’t have to worry about his wife, as he knows she is in good hands no more than a block away.
Elderly respected in Thailand
Irene Seidel is a guest at Baan Kamlangchay, a residence for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other senile dementias. The centre offers stays of varying duration to patients from Switzerland and Germany. “I wanted others to benefit from my experience,” explains founder Martin Woodtli.
In 2002, after his father died, the psychotherapist from Münsingen, outside Bern, was left to care for his mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. Putting her in a normal care home was not an option for Woodtli. He did not want his mother, who was hyperactive, to be limited in her movements and kept sedated with lots of medication. Permanent care in Switzerland was not an option financially either. So he decided to “follow his heart” and make the journey with his mother to Thailand, which is a country he knows well, as he worked here at one time with Médecins Sans Frontières.
The cost of living and the lower wage bill here are not the only argument for the offshore solution. “In Thailand the elderly enjoy great respect,” emphasises Woodtli. “It is considered normal that younger people take care of them.” His positive experience with local caregivers who looked after his mother around the clock convinced him of the rightness of the decision he had made. A year later he founded Baan Kamlangchay.
“Here I can recharge my batteries,” says Siegfried Seidel. “At home, apart from looking after Irene day and night, I am always afraid of making a wrong move or falling. If I broke an arm or a leg, who would look after her?”
READ MORE HERE ON SWISSINFO.CH: