I am calling those senior citizens who are handicapped, either by physical limitations or mental limitations as oldicapped. According to the figures which are available, these people form about 20-30% of our population. Many of them are slightly miserable, some highly miserable and a few are really happy. I am sure all of you would like to ask “Is this problem new? Did it not exist before?”
In case of our previous generation the life expectancy was very small. If a man or woman lives up to 60 it was a cause of celebration. People living more than 80 were extremely rare, and their birthdays used to be celebrated by the villagers as a whole. Most of them after retirement at the age of 50-55 or after disposing the business they were running used to come back to their ancestral homes in their native place. Their sons used to send regular remittances for their upkeep. Children and grandchildren used to make it a point to visit them and spend with them at least a month during the vacation. They had the privilege of searching for grooms and brides to not only their children but to their grand children also. Family squabbles and quarrels used to be there but there was a silken bond of affection tying the members of the family. Whether it is marriage or other celebrations or even death, the villagers considered it as a family function. They used to toil night and day to make happy functions a success and sad functions sublime.
Things have changed. The senior citizens have started easily living up to the age of 80+. Hundredth birth day though still rare, are annually one or two in a locality. Most of them live a face less life in a community which ignores its members. They do not have ancestral homes and prefer to settle down in the places they last worked. Their children are not with them, even if they live in the same town. Most of the children are settled either in the Middle East or in USA. Ofcourse there is a heavy demand of this oldicapped people for their services as long as they are healthy. Help in the kitchen, assistance during delivery and baby sitting are their normal jobs. But once they are not of any use, they are thrown out first as we throw our curry leaves from the dishes. Due to the rat race called life, to attain higher and higher peaks, the children and grand children think of them as a burden, once they are not physically or mentally fit. These oldicapped ones suffer within themselves. They know their future is to be either to be looked after by nurses or even worse, becoming a member of some old age homes. I would now like to detail some specific problems of these oldicapped citizens.
1. The poor oldicapped people
There are large numbers of parents who spend all that they have earned to bring up and educate their children. They also have to spend lot of money on marriages of their daughters. At the end they become poor at a stage when they become so old that they cannot earn any more money. The pensioners are slightly lucky among these people. If their children do not give money to their maintenance or for treatment of awful diseases that attack the old age, they simply become miserable. There are many old age homes that are prepared to take them. But it seems some body in the society should admit them in such old age homes and guarantee some responsibility in great crisis. Would their children do that?
One of my friends remarked that such cases are found only among the middle class and the rich. Among the poor, he said, no son deserts his parents.
2. The once efficient old mother
This type of handicap affects men and women in a different way. The housewife who has brought up children to become great people and looked after her husband like an angel has tremendous demand among working couple as long as she is physically capable. But it is clear that the demand is for her but not to her husband who can only create confusion and not provide physical help.
Such old mothers have all their lives been the queens of their kitchen. One generation before, there used to be conflict between her and the daughter in law for the ruler ship of the kitchen. The modern working daughter in law is least bothered about the control of the kitchen. But she deeply dislikes the Aacharams (religious dos and don’ts) to which her mother in law is attached and also for her , the little time of privacy that she gets with her husband and children is sacrosanct. These do fan the conflict and one day the poor mother in law is out of the house. Her only support is her husband. But both being physically weak, find it difficult to manage a household independently. As long as the partners are together, they somehow manage. Moving to the daughter’s house rarely solves the problems. Old age homes or God is their only solace after such eventuality.
But there are some very wise woman (You find them in large numbers today), who know about this extremely well. They easily manage the house according to the likings of her daughter in law and manage to keep themselves happy. God bless them.
3. That old man who is active.
Fortunately large numbers of old men are active thanks to the great advances of modern medicines. If they have independent wealth or income and have their own house, the problems crop up only when they loose their partner or they become physically dependent. Till then the major problem is spending time. If they are religious they can join such groups and become contended that they will definitely are going to heaven. Spending time is a great punishment for them.
The grandchildren are very busy in their own way attending thousands of classes apart from attending school. Their children do not have time to speak with them. Unfortunately two problems crop up at this stage. The old man keeps on dwelling in the past and repeats the same events again and again. Another problem is that they do not keep the toilets clean. This is not because they do not want but they do not realize that due to the prostate problem, drops of urine fall outside the basin and give rise to awful stink. They also become like children and keep on hankering for their favorite sweet or savory. Their wives are helpless because they are outside the kitchen and their daughters/daughter in laws simply does not have the time.
Some of them manage to join an old man’s club which is active in street corners and parks. But I understand some how this does not help them much.
4. The sick oldicapped people.
With the advancement of medicine, most of the old people have either high blood pressure, High Sugar, High cholesterol or arthritis of the joints or a funny and entertaining combination of some of these. Imagine an old man being asked not to consume sugar, salt and chillies and walk at least for one hour daily and also keep a strict diet. Food, the only entertainment in the old age becomes a punishment. The medicines/injections they have to daily take are very costly. If they can afford it, it is fine. But if they cannot afford it but have to ask their daughter in law for money (there is nothing wrong) it becomes greatly painful. As long as it remains like this it is well and good. But some old people get serious diseases like cancer, kidney malfunctioning, heart attack and so on. More money is needed and apart from it lots of the precious commodity “Time” of their children is also needed. Life becomes miserable and daily such old people pray God to take them away from this earth. God sometimes accedes to the request but some time he does not.
Very high percentage of oldicapped persons beyond the age of 85 or 90 are attacked by this disease. They loose all their memory and are worse than just born babies.If the children are not there to look after them, there are not many institutions who can take care of such people.
6. The security of oldicapped people.
In almost all towns in India murders of oldicapped couple takes place with an aim to rob them. Though the police say that this is not done by thieves but by relations or friends known to them, it becomes almost unbelievable.
7. The oldicapped prisoners
It is not an exaggeration to say that some oldicapped people are locked by their children in their own house when they go to work. Thus without partaking in any crime, these persons are sentenced to simple imprisonment. Though not done like this, the oldicapped persons going to visit their children in USA are virtually prisoners in their homes from Monday to Friday during office hours,
What can be done?
1. Learn healthy habits even while you are middle aged. Even if you are not sick, restrict salt in take, avoid sweets and sugar in coffee. Make it a point to learn Yoga which gives lot of relief.
2. Take up a medical health insurance even while you are fifty for you and your wife and see that this policy is renewed year after year.
3. Even while you are fifty, cultivate some serious hobbies like reading (difficult to the eye) or writing (think of Parkinson), walking (difficult in case of arthritis), music, art, cartooning, giving speeches etc. You need not become a master in any of these but this hobby would help you spend time, when you stop working.
4. The need of a wife and husband to each other reaches epic proportions when you become old. Love her (him) , spoil him(her) with love , talk with each other, discuss your problems and so on. Let the husbands who have never bothered to learn cooking start to learn it when they are 50 plus. Let the wife who has never done outside works like going to bank, pay electricity bills etc start doing it. You both only would be there to look after each other. So if one of you is disabled the other should manage the entire house.
5. Talk to your children openly. When they start earning, do not tell them, that you would manage the house. Demand a portion of salary towards home management. This would become a habit for him and he would realize that he has to contribute a part of salary towards old parents.
6. The society should start old people’s crèche with transport facility in all towns and villages. When the children go away to office and grand children go away to school, these oldicapped people should be looked after in a company of similar people by the crèches. This would also help them to make new friends and facilitate exchange of ideas.
7. If you are forced to live alone by circumstances, and have a brother or sister or cousin who is also old and retired or even friends of similar circumstance try to move your house near to theirs. You can then form a mutual looking after club among yourselves.
8. A better idea would be to promote community living of oldicapped persons. Most of these persons live alone in their big flat. If only they call their friends / relatives to whom they are attached to live with them under the discipline of community living, apart from having company they would lead a more secure life.
9. Building of more old age homes is necessary. Though our politicians want integration at every stage, it would be better to have these old age homes based on a community. In fact the community can organize such homes.
10. All police stations should keep a register of homes where only oldicapped persons live. Let a beat constable once in a while go to these houses and enquire about these people.
11. Let hospitals register these oldicapped people and keep their health problems in their computers. If they are rushed to the hospitals in an unconscious state, possibly this will help.
12. The oldicapped persons should carry their identity and SOS phone number always with them.
13.Institutions to take care of patients with Alzheimer’s disease are a priority. The government and social organizations should do their all towards this.
14. There is an organization called Dignity foundation in Mumbai and Bangalore. They help oldicapped people to get jobs and live a life of dignity.
I know I have raised problems, suggested some practical/impractical solutions but I know this is not complete.
Young and old, please think about it.