By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
Our culture as Africans demands that family members care for their elderly, and most families do this to the best of their ability. However, total commitment to this is declining due to pressures of everyday living and limited time and funds. Besides, our healthcare is yet to include special services for the elderly.
Ten years ago, Dr (Mrs) Iyabode Khadijat Cole, a 1982 graduate in Medicine, of the University of Ife, decided to render such services by establishing Khadijat Home Care for the elderly, after serving in Lagos State hospitals for some time as a general medical practitioner. Vista Woman had a chat recently at a Rotary Club event with this lady who’s clearly enjoying her job. Excerpts:
What got you to specialize in Geriatric Medicine which is a rare field in our own part of the world?
I was inspired by the need to take care of old people. I’ve been in this in the last ten years in my own quiet way. A lot of aged people are suffering, especially in the Old People’s Homes, and that was one of the things I observed during my years as a general practitioner. I observed they were not getting adequate attention, and I therefore developed a soft spot towards them! A friend actually contacted me from England and suggested that I help take care of her mother, and that was how it all started.
Looking back to the last ten years, how boring or interesting would you say working with aged people could be?
Working with aged people is fantastic and I’m happy when I’m with them. They tell you their problems and you listen carefully because for many of them, their children might not be around them most of the time. I actually go to their houses to care for them one after the other, and in areas where I experience serious challenges, I call in specialists. Some of them have different challenges, and they practically need all the love they can get for the short time. I however feel much fulfilled to be able to show them love and care because they are just like babies. You need to really spend time with them With some, I may spend hours because they are reluctant for me to leave. Some want special people they can confide in.
Most western countries make provisions for their aged citizens, but we do not have such here; would you say it’s because we don’t consider special services for them necessary?
It’s quite unfortunate that we do not have such here in Nigeria. However, some children are doing their best to cater for their aged parents. Some pay the bills from their parents’ estate while some children contribute individually to pay their bills.
Having worked with aged people and perhaps witnessed their children’s attitude towards them sometimes, what do you think of our attitude towards our aged parents?
Many children take care of their parents while some don’t. Also, some children are very loving! The society, especially the non-governmental organisations, is really trying. Every now and then, they pay visits to old people’s homes to show love and care. I’m a member of the Rotary Club and we also do that often.
Our healthcare centres are known for long queues; from your experience, are these people given preferential attention so that they won’t have to queue for long?
I cannot answer that question because the answer would be very bitter to some ears!
Another thing that is gradually creeping into our lives here is the transfer of aged parents to old people’s homes by their children even when they too are living in the same cities…
Frankly, to me, it’s an abomination in our culture. Why can’t your parents stay with you? I know some daughters who take in their parents, and their husbands are very accommodating about it, and they treat these aged parents-in-law nicely. I don’t see any reason why you cannot bring your mother or father into your house. It all depends on understanding, anyway.
Isn’t putting the elderly in Old People’s Homes depriving young children of the opportunity to learn traditional values and culture from their grandparents?
Living with grandchildren helps aged people a lot. Both parties are able to learn from each other and that way, the IQ of these aged remain strong. They learn new things from the young ones while the young ones also learn history and values from their chest of knowledge. I just wish we could change our attitude towards our old parents.
So, what’s your advice to children who still have aged parents to look after?
We just have to learn to take care of our old parents. It’s not about killing cows and inviting VIPs and renowned musicians to their burial ceremonies. We have to give them the best while they are alive because they took care of us when we were young. Otherwise, how else do we pay them back?
Madam, in your old age, would you consent to being taken to old people’s home?
Me? God forbid! My children won’t do that! They can see what I’m doing for aged people, and besides, my first daughter and my baby girl are also medical doctors. They might eventually decide to toe my path.