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Should we discard our elderly people?

By Helen Ovbiagele
It was questions time at this press briefing by a group of professionals who had come together to put in place, programmes which will give better quality to the lives of our elderly people, particularly those who are in Old People’s Homes.

“Excuse me, please,” said this reporter, “ er, these are good things which your organization is planning for old people, but in my view, the help seems misplaced because it’s the young who need help.  They are the ones on the threshold of their lives, whereas the elderly people who will benefit from these programmes, are moving towards the end of theirs.

Many young people out there are unemployed and have no-one to help them have any sort of quality of life.  They are in despair because they roam the streets in search of jobs that are not there.  They deserve more attention than elderly people.”

I understand that this young man’s view met with an embarrassed silence, since members of the group who gave the press briefing were no spring chicken themselves, as some were middle-aged and above.

One of them eventually told the reporter that the young people of today would, if they are lucky, become the old people of the future, and some of them may not have family members to take adequate care of them and may end their days in a Home.  “Should such people exit the world in abject misery?”

The question hung in the air.

When a member of the group narrated the incident to me, I was a bit sad that things have got so bad in our country that a young person would feel that way about the elderly.  His view was very un-African, not to mention un-Nigerian.  This is because looking after the elderly is very much a part of our culture.

I grew up in an era where the care of parents and the elderly in our families was given priority over one’s personal care.  It was the era where the Post Office played an important part in the lives of many families because it was through it that they got money/postal orders from family members working away from home, for the upkeep of parents and elders.

They looked forward eagerly for it every month.   It was a responsibility that everyone, including the elderly of that time, was born into.  Even those who had no children of their own were cared for in their old age, by the young people in the extended family.

It was not only an obligation, it was also believed that when you take care of the elderly, you’re attracting blessings to yourself, especially those of long life and good health with prosperity.

I don’t know how true this is, but since we all would like to have a long life and grow old, it makes sense that we should care for the elderly where we can.

No-one, including the rich and mighty, can adequately predict in what state of health and fortune he/she would be inlater when old, no matter how hard they try, so, it is important that programmes are put in place to take care of  elderly people’’s needs till the end of their days; e.g. adequate housing, health care, social life and leisure.

Some old people will be lucky to have all these, and also surrounded by caring family members and friends, but some may not be so lucky, due to some misfortune or bad planning.

Many years ago, only a few cities in Nigeria had Old People’s Homes and only destitute people who were non-indigenes were found there.  It brought disgrace to a family if a family member were found there, just as stealing used to bring disgrace and humiliation to a family.

From the rural to the urban areas, families took care of their old people.  It just wasn’t done to go dump an old person from your family in an Old People’s Home.  In fact, if word  of it got out , I’m sure people would curse that family.

With the economic-downturn, a few families have begun to send their old people to homes in the cities where they live, because they can no longer take adequate care of them.  This is very sad, but then, who can blame them?

Some young families where jobs/businesses have been lost are just managing to survive with odd jobs in big cities and they may have nothing to spare to look after an aged person adequately well, not only in terms of feeding and clothing, but of accommodation, medical care, and round-the-clock supervision.  Out of control inflation has raised the costs of  everything.

The middle and upper class citizens don’t have any problem with this because they can employ nurses and domestic helps to care for the aged in the comfort of their homes.  But what about the masses?   Some governments in the cities have established homes for the aged, but their efforts are not enough as the number of the aged who need help continues to increase.

So, it is commendable for any group to want to put up programmes  which would be of benefit to this group of our citizens.

Looking after the aged is of utmost importance in western countries and government takes it seriously.

There are government homes which are free and there are private ones which are fee paying.  These homes are graded according to needs, and sometimes to professions.  There are separate Homes for military people, actors, writers, and other professionals.

Some of the private ones have small luxury flats which may be  self-catering in a way, according to the resident’s capacity.  In all the facilities, there are clinics and round the clock medical staff and care.  There are free government-sponsored summer programmes for old people, even those living on their own.

Transport is provided for them to go on excursions, go to the pictures, have socials, and they are given some arts and crafts lessons.  For one dollar, a local government in California gives transport to pensioners in need, to go do their weekly shopping.

Of course, we’re a long way from being able to deliver such services in this country, but with more focus on the needs of the elderly, we may get there some day.

One sympathizes with our young people who are unable to find work, as unemployment after graduation can be quite distressing, especially where a family pooled resources together to send a member to  the  university with the hope that he/she would come lift the family out of  poverty later.

I sincerely hope that government at all levels will be seriously engaged in providing jobs for our young people, and also other employable people, so that that despair of being unemployed can be lifted off our nation, and hopefully, criminal activities will greatly reduce.

However, the elderly of today, were once the backbone of the nation, in whatever capacity they served, and whatever their social status.   Should we now despise and neglect those of them who in are need now?   Don’t they deserve our attention and care?  They certainly do.

The young of today who think the elderly don’t deserve attention because they’re close to the end of their earthly pilgrimage, may need help in their own old age.  The cycle continues.  It makes sense to ensure adequate care for the elderly.  The United Nations recognizes this, and that is why it declared a  special day as Elderly People’s Day.


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