10 Years of Blog Archive

Friday, March 29, 2013

Expats Caring for Elderly Parent(s) in Cuenca: Advantages and Disadvantages

We know of several expats retiring to Cuenca and they are bringing an aged parent with them. We find this endearing to say the least. Coming from the north-American mindset and culture where there are so many elder care nursing homes, filled up to the brim with elderly people not really happy, we find it amazing there are adult children bringing their parent(s) to Cuenca with them. 

It reminds us that there are some families that want to take responsibility, and enjoy doing it, rather than have someone else take that duty from them.

Advantages to Bringing Aged Parent(s) to Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca is a wonderful place to bring your elderly parents, namely because it is a natural part of the culture here in Ecuador to take care of their own. You will blend right in by having your aged parent(s) live with you. The nursing home thing is not really part of the mainstream at this point in Cuenca or Ecuador.

It is very common to see three generations living together in one household.  We know of one such Ecuadorian family personally where the grandmother, mother, and the 24-year old daughter live together, and happily. The grandmother is getting on in age and still goes out to sell vegetables when she is feeling good, but on those days she is not feeling that great she has a nice home and is with her family  where she is cared for by her daughter and granddaughter. It is an ideal situation.

Ecuadorian culture is not in a hurry to throw the children out the door or to put their elderly parents in a nursing home—they just make it work by doing what it takes for everyone to get along and be happy. Of course, there might have to be some adjustments made when you have your elderly parents live with you, especially when they are getting on in age, but it is culturally natural to do so, at least in Ecuador.

Health-care and Medical Services Outstanding

Another advantage to bringing your aged parent(s) with you to Cuenca is health care services and medical costs are terrific. The neat thing about medical care in Ecuador is the doctor takes his/her position with importance it deserves, which is a very good thing. 

Medical facilities are 21 century in Ecuador, while bedside manner (level of personal care) is like it was back in the 1950’s…the doctor actually spends time with you…explaining…talking with you until you feel ok about procedures and services. And…some doctors will still come to YOUR home for care visits!

Everyone tells us, who has experienced going to the doctor in Cuenca, how much more personal their visit was than in the US. Not to make comparisons but this needs to be compared! There is no rush-rush mentality to hurry up and get out on the golf course or to hurry up and get to the next patient.

Doctors and care-givers in Ecuador generally have compassion and genuine concern for their patient's health, and it is clear that they actually love what they do, and that is a good thing for them and especially for the patients. Many care specialists and doctors speak English because they were schooled in the US or Europe.

For those of you who are thinking of having an in-home nurse, the same quality of care can and should be expected of her. As usual, be sure to make inquiries for past patient care and require references of anyone whom you decide to hire on to help you with your aging parent.

Organic Food Means Better Health

Another advantage to bringing your aged parent(s) to Ecuador is the quality of the food. There are several cooperatives here in Cuenca that offer organic produce at a price that is cost effective for every budget. Many times we buy organic produce at the grocery store and the price is not much more than non-organic.

Fruits and vegetables at Feria Libre are fresh as well and a lot of it is organically grown.  We’ve talked with many Ecuadorians who have told us that if they spray anything on the food, it is very little and some farmers use organic bug sprays…most produce farmers cannot afford to buy the chemicals! We know the produce is cleaner here because we’re healthier!

Another thing that many folks want to know is if there are fake made foods here in (GMO’s) Ecuador. And we can proudly state, as of this writing, NO! To read more about this click here. It is very safe to say that the food in Ecuador is much cleaner, safer, and healthier.

Disadvantages for Aged People in Ecuador

The advantages of bringing an elderly parent with you to Cuenca far outweigh the disadvantages and we think the disadvantages can be worked with, so do not fret over these two things too much. We just want to bring you both sides of the issue so when you get here you won’t be surprised.

Many Homes Constructed of Two or Three Levels

Most of the homes built in Cuenca have two or three stories, which could mean stairs to climb to the bedroom.  Some of the homes are built with all of the bedrooms upstairs, while the downstairs has the social or guest bathroom (usually with no shower) which makes for shower-time having to walk up a flight of steps. It is not that you cannot find a home with the one of the bedrooms downstairs, but it is not the norm.

Even many apartments and some condos sometimes have two stories. So, if you are bringing an aging parent that has a difficult time walking up stairs, it may just be best to find a home, apartment, or condo that is suitable for the family BEFORE you get here, so you are not being put under the stress of having to hit the streets in a hurry looking for that ideal place. The ideal home or apartment will have a bedroom with full bath on the lower level for the aged parent(s).  You can find those here, but it might just take longer to find.  

Wheelchair Accessibility is a Work in Progress

Another disadvantage is getting around and doing things with your elderly parent. If they are in a wheelchair many businesses are not wheelchair friendly. Even though there has been much improvement, Cuenca sidewalks are not the best. In fact many times there are no wheelchair access up onto or down onto the street. Many businesses are still not equipped with ramps.  Again, many of the homes have one step-up into another room, or step-downs into another room…it is just the way the homes are built here.

Crossing the street can be a challenge, especially since pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way. Even when the light is red, oncoming cars have been known to speed through the intersections and make speedy right turns while pedestrians are trying to cross the street to get to the other side. Drivers figure you will hear their horn and just wait for them to go first, but unfortunately when coming from a country where pedestrians have the right of way, you aren’t necessarily waiting to be honked at by a speedy driver and may not be accustomed to having to  hear the horn, which is not a reliable way to be crossing anyway.

Cuenca's Sidewalks Are Being Improved Upon 

If your aged parent has a difficult time walking you will need to be careful because the sidewalks have big holes in them, rocks, and things that jet up from the cement. Cuenca city is improving their sidewalks but it is still a work in progress.

Another thing about the sidewalks here is there are slanted driveways entrances connected to the sidewalks which can make for falling fairly easy if you are not watching where you are going, which has happened to all of us.  A friend who was visiting (she was 18) fell down and badly bruised her hip on one of these slanted driveways that come up onto the sidewalk because it had just rained and it was slick. Thank goodness she was fit and only bruised her hip and scratched her arm. We just want to let you know some of the things that you will have to contend with here in Cuenca for yourself and for your aged parent.

The bus system is very good in Cuenca but the buses have almost a two foot gap between the ground and the first step! This might prove to be a challenge for an elderly person just trying to step up onto the bus. Not only that, but the bus does not always wait for passengers to sit down before the driver takes off. The buses are more crowded now than they were two years ago, often times we are standing up and it can be a rough ride.

Getting off the bus can be challenging at times, depending on the driver. We have seen many times where the driver takes off before a person has the chance to step all the way off the bus! We know of one expat personally who this happened to and she fell onto the ground. She was hurt minimally only because she was fit.

Hopefully when Cuenca builds their light rail they will make concessions for the aged, handicapped, and those in wheelchairs just like Quito has with their trolley light rail system. It’s great because there are no step ups or step downs to get on or off the electric trolley in Quito, plus sidewalks are much wider and more improved in Quito than in Cuenca.

The way around to not have to walk too much or ride the bus with your aged parent is to call a taxi that will come and pick you up at your home. Taxis in Cuenca are still around $3 to go anywhere within the city so it is a good option for getting around Cuenca city. 

(Yanuncay River Walk)

If you would like to have your aged parent get some exercise and walk a bit, a great place to take them is along the river where there are nicely paved walking lanes.  There are excellent walking paths along the two main rivers in Cuenca, the Tomebamba and the Yanuncay Rivers. Beautiful walks!

So that is about it…of course there are more advantages to moving to Cuenca with your aged parent that we did not mention in this article.  But here's one that may be overlooked: If a parent is still able to walk and get out, one possibly overlooked thing is the joy de vivre ambience of Latin America. We have seen it put a little more spunk in more than one elder!  What a way to spend your last years!!


  1. The article/blog was very helpful. I found it while I was doing some research for a presentation on caring for aging parents that I will be giving at FIGT in March 2014 Even though you focused on Ecuador, many of your ideas have broader application.

  2. I'd like to supplement my retirement by providing private nursing care to Americans. How would I go about doing this?

  3. oh well, the 3rd world is NOT wheelchair friendly!

    try rolling around any 3rd world town for say, 4 hrs and then tell me how great that country/city is...


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