‘In the last days of their lives, families don’t want the elderly’
In the fourth of five-part series ‘Let’s Talk About Our Elderly’, a woman, who runs an old-age home, talks about why the elderly need qualitative care, not quantitative.Updated: Jun 29, 2018 15:16 IST
As a counsellor, people approach me with marriage problems, child counselling and even de-addiction from drugs or alcohol. But what set me off on a different path was when I received several cases of elderly men with a drinking problem. Their families had brought them saying that the alcoholism was disrupting their lives.
But after counselling, when the elderly showed improvement, the families were dismissive. One of them asked if I could keep them saying ‘humein inki zaroorat nahi hai ab’ (we do not need them any more).
This shocked and moved me a lot. They spoke of the person like an object. I could not leave the person to the whims of his own family. I turned my small clinic into a basic old-age home, focusing on the elderly who may also need therapy or de-addiction. Dealing with depressed or addicted men and women at an advanced age is even more difficult, but as a counsellor I cannot say no to people in need.
I started with four such people in 2005. Currently, I have 15. There are those who have been successfully de-addicted from their drinking problem yet remain unwanted. There are those who have been abandoned after the death of their spouse. There are those who have willingly come here as life was worse for them with their families.
There are those who suffer from testing illnesses like dementia, making it difficult to live with them.
Recently I got a call from a man who wanted to send his 92-year old father to our old-age home. He thought it was a burden to look after him. Such requests are very common. It is heart-breaking to see that in the last days of their lives, the families do not want their own parents around.
Another common request I often receive is from men whose wives and mothers do not get along. They think the solution is to send away the aged mother. The same mother who gave them birth. The same mother who dealt with their tantrums growing up. The same mother who loved them selflessly all her life.
My first instinct is to always tell the family to continue keeping the elderly at home (especially those above 90 years) and get treatment if required. People laugh at me for convincing people in this manner. For me, this is not a business but a service.
It is not a means to make money but to help those who may not be able to help themselves. If, through my counselling, I can save families from breaking up, then that is my achievement rather than more people living in my old-age home.
Age brings physical and mental changes in the elderly which the family needs to adjust and cope with but it doesn’t happen automatically. The pace of life that we lead or want to lead doesn’t help, creating a communication gap.
The elderly need qualitative care, not quantitative, so even spending five minutes is sufficient but even that becomes bothersome for families. That is when neglect and loneliness creep in among the aged. They often suffer from self-pity, thinking of all that they did for their children who now do not want them anymore. But my advice to the elderly is that they need to make adjustments too. Instead of always referring to how things were in their youth, they need to adapt to their family’s lifestyle.
Moving to an old-age home is a disrupting experience, but once here, the elderly do not take too much time to settle in. They develop a sense of peer group. For those who were unhappy at home, it is also a sense of relief. In fact, so much so that there have been instances where they do not want to go back even if given the option.
One of the elderly ladies I have refused to go for an outstation family wedding. The son told me that ‘samaj mein badnami hogi’ (will get a bad name in society), if she doesn’t attend. The mother was required not for her blessing but for the sake of social propriety. I wondered why that hadn’t stopped them from sending her to a home in the first place.
Families often ask me what ‘magic’ I do that they listen to me, don’t lose their temper and become healthy here. These are the same people who barely come to visit or even call to check on their parents for months at the end. If they do not respect the emotional bond with their parents, how do they hope to have the same relationship?
What I have noticed is that the elderly may complain about a thousand things but they never criticise their children, especially to others.
During their counselling sessions, they do mention being hurt or pained by their children’s actions without bad-mouthing them. Instead, they say if being here makes their children happy, then it makes them happy.
The stories of the people who live here or have lived here had a profound and deep impact on my own perception of life and parents. Ageing is inevitable. Each of us will be in this state at one point.
My advice to the elderly is to learn active ageing. Keep yourself physically fit with regular exercise. Also, make efforts to change with the times.
Do not make yourself obsolete. To the children, I say that communication is key. Ask what they want and say what you can do. Find a middle-ground instead of thinking that it won’t work. Be the example that you want your own children to follow.
The author runs Sai Sahara Old-Age Home.
This is the fourth of HT’s five-part series, #LetsTalkAboutOurElderly. Join the conversation on @htTweets and send us your ideas and suggestions.
First Published: Jun 28, 2018 07:03 IST