Elderly Watch

Today’s children must remember that they too will become old. If they are neglecting their duties towards their elderly parents, they had better change attitude

Issues pertaining to the elderly, commonly referred to as senior citizens, are a matter of not only local or national concern but have a global appeal. And this is for many reasons, especially when it comes to what is known as the ‘baby-boomers’, a term coined in 1974 in the USA to describe the people born between the end of the Second World War in 1945 and 1964. During this period the populations and economies of certain countries, particularly the US, boomed, and advertisers recognized the spending power of the generation that set the ‘me’ and ‘now’ trend. However, while many of them thanks to awareness about their health and general situation reached their planned retirement in a fit state with adequate financial provisions for their upkeep, others did not do so and found themselves depending on children or the state to take care of their needs, and thus faced hardships.


“In most cases it is the children who are the perpetrators of harm to their elderly parents or grandparents, and this cuts across all communities. And even more frightening, in a significant number of cases, it is drugs that was the underlying factor. Those who had got into this trap did not hesitate to go to the extent of physical violence to get money, which deprived their parents even further of their already meager means and thus made them even more vulnerable to poor nutrition and consequent health problems. But even ‘normal’ children misbehaved, for example keeping the pension money to themselves after collecting it…”


In Mauritius we probably fall into the latter category, because there was no boom after the Second World War – in fact there was the cyclone of 1945, which according to reminiscences in the wake of the devastating Alix and Carol in 1960 were as calamitous as the latter two cyclones. A couple of days ago I was talking to a fellow walker at Trou-O-Cerfs during our morning perambulation, and I was telling him about a talk on ‘Health and well-being’ that I was invited to give last weekend to the Ladies’ Wing of an organization on the occasion of International Women’s Day. They were all senior citizens and it was a very positive interaction.

This friend is in his mid-70s, and retired as head teacher of a primary school. Thanks to his regular and sound habits, including the walks at the crater, and a supportive and loving family with grandchildren who are doing well in their studies (with guidance and supervision from him), he fits almost to the letter WHO’S definition of health which is that ‘health is not merely the absence of disease but a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being’. Besides caring for family and participating in housekeeping – he is a committed bricoleur (DIY enthusiast) – he has also been a social worker for several years now, even being awarded a regional prize for his work some years back, in South Africa, and thus confirming the adage that it is those who are busy who find time to do things!

He is the president of the 10-member Elderly Watch group in Curepipe, one of about 20 such groups in the island set up under the aegis of the Ministry of Social Security. As I was winding up my brief account of my talk, he started to tell me about some aspects of his own involvement with the elderly, many of whom he said were victims of maltraitance (ill-treatment) of a physical, financial, emotional and psychological nature that he and his colleagues have been personal witnesses to as they have been called for help. They receive between 5 to 6 calls per month, which adds up to 60 to 70 plus cases they have to handle every year. At national level therefore, this number comes to 1200 to 1400 calls per year – but that is on the assumption that the number of calls to each group is the same, which I am sure is unlikely, so that the actual number of people in distress they have to help is quite possibly a couple of hundreds more.

But in this context – even one case is one too many!


“Today’s children must remember that they too will become old one day, with chances that they will live even longer, and will therefore be in need of correspondingly longer years of care. For this reason, therefore, if they are neglecting their duties towards their elderly parents, they had better change attitude and course, and more importantly, they had better start now to prepare for their own old age by ‘ageing well’…”


We only have to read about the types of cases that are reported in the papers on a quasi-daily basis, he pointed out to realise the extent of the problem. Further, he added, the saddest thing is that in most cases it is the children who are the perpetrators of harm to their elderly parents or grandparents, and this cuts across all communities. And even more frightening, in a significant number of cases, it is drugs that was the underlying factor. Those who had got into this trap did not hesitate to go to the extent of physical violence to get money, which deprived their parents even further of their already meager means and thus made them even more vulnerable to poor nutrition and consequent health problems.

But even ‘normal’ children misbehaved, for example keeping the pension money to themselves after collecting it, and doling out in a miserly manner to the rightful beneficiary (-ies) – none other than their own parents! Or they would hardly visit, so that the parents felt isolated and suffered from depression. Some of the worst cases he had seen were about the neglect of bedridden parents, who would not therefore be changed or fed for days. Such situations, he commented, were too sad for tears.

As a matter of fact, I remember two cases with patronymic names that I was contacted to attend to medically when I was in active practice many years ago, both not far from where I stay. One was a lady and the other was a man, both aged about 80. I can still visualize the scenes of them lying in the foetal position in their beds in dark dingy rooms, with their nappies soaked with urine and faeces that had naturally soiled the bed sheets as well. Only an equally old maid was present during my visit, so that I could not get any proper medical details required. Which perhaps were superfluous… as I looked at the bedsores that were present on the bodies. In one case, the daughter-in-law had phoned, and spoken in English – and I expected her to be there at least, as she sounded so concerned. But when I asked the maid, all she said was that the lady hardly came to visit, but had left the money for the fees and any medicines that would be prescribed!

My friend gave another example in which they had to intervene, which they always do with an officer of the Social Security in case some measure has to be enforced under the Protection of the Elderly Act. It was about a widower who lived on the ground floor of his house, the upper floor being occupied by his son and the latter’s family. The son had kept a dog in the sitting room downstairs where the father spent most of his time. He did not bother to clean up as often as was required, and ‘you can imagine the stench’ the old man complained to the two visitors. Fortunately, however, they were able to resolve the situation after they had talked to the son and drummed some sense into his thick head. But this, said my friend, was not the only similar type of situation.

‘Really, what kind of society are we living in!’ exclaimed my friend. This would be an understandable and natural reaction on the part of anyone confronted with the sad tales above. But fortunately they are balanced by personal knowledge and accounts of happier relationships about children with parents and grandparents, who are not made to suffer such ignominy and on the contrary are cherished and affectionately looked after.

Nevertheless, the carry home message is a known one, though made stale by repetition but which needs to be reiterated because it is generally not heeded: today’s children must remember that they too will become old one day, with chances that they will live even longer, and will therefore be in need of correspondingly longer years of care. For this reason, therefore, if they are neglecting their duties towards their elderly parents, they had better change attitude and course, and more importantly, they had better start now to prepare for their own old age by ‘ageing well’.

And there’s an equally if not more important message for those who find themselves in a situation of ill-treatment: check out on the Elderly Watch in their locality, and do not hesitate to seek their help!

 

* Published in print edition on 16 March 2018

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