Generally, a senior in almost all walks of life is at a higher position in rank and is well respected.
What about the Senior Citizens?
Indeed, they were well-respected in the days of yore, both in the family and in society. Over time, the joint family has given way to the nuclear family in all parts of the world. Life expectancy has increased considerably. Governments are not equipped to take care of the increasing number of older adults. There is limited space and time, especially for city dwellers; divorce rates are high. These factors and the failing health of the elderly make them vulnerable. Many of them wonder – are they seniors or juniors?
An incident is green in my memory. As part of the community outreach program, my high school in India made a visit to an old age home. I noticed an elderly lady lying on her bed, talking to her parrot. She motioned me to her bedside and welcomed me with a broad smile. On her beckoning, the parrot uttered, “Welcome, welcome young lady! Glad to meet you.”
The old lady said, “Peter, enough!” And the bird stopped instantly. The old lady introduced herself: “I am Sheela Walter, an Anglo-Indian hailing from Dehradun. I am here for the last 3 years. What is your name?”
I replied, “I’m Jeanne. Your lovely smile makes me feel so good.”
“Yes, there is always a very good reason for me to smile,” she said.
Walking down memory lane, she described how, as a single parent, she had lived a life of poverty, hardship, and sacrifice to bring up her only son. The boy did extremely well and was well-settled in the United States with a hefty 6 digit income and a beautiful family. He was too busy though to undertake the 16-hour journey to India, or to bring her along to his home, or even to spend time on the phone talking to her. She smiled through her tears and said she was at peace because she knew her son was happy and enjoying a good life.
Interacting with them, I realized for the first time, the pain and struggles they were going through, despite being well looked after at the old age home. Many had a multitude of physical, mental, and emotional issues: pain, breathing trouble, visual and hearing impairments, weakness, urinary problems, digestion issues, restricted mobility, many suffered from memory loss, depression, anxiety, loneliness, isolation, dementia…
As the elderly grow older and weaker with passing days, they begin to depend on caregivers more and more. The quality of life they enjoy depends largely on these people. The caregivers are broadly of two kinds. In some countries like India, the caregiver is generally a woman within the household, who is closely related. In old age homes and assisted living facilities, they are paid workers or volunteers. In resource-limited countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, these institutions are largely run by non-governmental charity organizations – either free or highly subsidized. In the developed world, the service provided is generally far superior and may be paid for by the users or their families, or run by the government.
Globally, the elderly most often live within an extended circle of relatives, a phenomenon which holds especially true in developing countries like India and Iraq. In developed countries like the United States, the elderly are far more likely to live alone or with their spouse or partner. The phenomenon of Retirement Communities or Old Age Villages that began in the West is catching up in many parts of the world. The elderly are independent, live in their own homes, and manage their own affairs, with support for their daily activities if needed. Generally, the elderly enjoy greater psychological satisfaction and mental health. The last category is the Nursing Homes and Hospices for the very weak and terminally ill.
Whatever be the model available, a good number of the elderly around the world are not really getting the care they deserve. The world has the knowledge, capability, and skill to provide good care for the elderly, but the will is often lacking.
Singapore is providing a good model for the whole world. They have an integrated people-centric system, with a network of families, communities, and institutions. The elderly have the choice to be in their own homes with medical and social support. The system discourages hospitalization. Japan too is investing heavily on elderly care. In the US, the government provides care for the elderly through its Medicare and Medicaid programs. The elderly in the US enjoy several Social Security Retirement benefits and have a much higher quality of life as compared to their counterparts in the developing world. While caregiving has become among the fastest-growing occupations in the US, there is a threat of a deficit in professional caregivers in the years to come, owing to the demographic changes in the proportion of aging adults. China is still in the process of evolving a suitable model. A good number of the elderly in India live in their own homes, although quite a few are gradually moving into old age homes, generally run by charitable organizations. With the swift increase in the aging population the world over, there is a humongous population of elderly silently suffering from neglect and even abuse in different measures. It’s high time the younger generation takes the lead in mitigating their pain – both physical and emotional. After all, they too will become elderly one day…
Jeanne Maria Dsouza is a medical student from Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, India. She is an avid writer and has published poems and prose in newspapers and magazines. She is passionate about art, literature, and medicine