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Do We Care Enough For Our Elderly To Ensure They’re A Part Of Our Daily Life, And Vice-Versa?

The (unfortunate) death of my elderly neighbour made me realise how important it is to be responsible about those we live with in society.

The (unfortunate) death of my elderly neighbour made me realise how important it is to be responsible about those we live with in society.

My apartment is on the fourth floor. I take the stairs and for the past one whole year, I see an apartment just below mine, where a lonely aged lady stays.

I have been watching her routine everyday, as I climb down and go up at least 5 times a day.

The old lady and her attendant

Early morning, the door would slightly be open and the attendant (the lady stayed alone with the attendant) would comb and braid her hair probably after bathing her.

When I came up from the gym, she fed her breakfast. The living room where I saw all this had only one bed, a TV set, the attendant’s plastic chair and a wheelchair in the balcony.

Come evening, the attendant would open the door again- the main door as well as the door of the balcony. The old lady was made to sit in her wheelchair and she would watch the road in front of the apartment.

Day after day I watched this routine. Whenever I passed from there, it reeked of body odour mixed with talcum powder and soap. Lately the body odour of the sick person had become very pronounced.

No one came to meet the old lady. For the entire year, I saw no one other than a middle aged lady. She laid a rangoli at the door on Diwali and left within 15 minutes.

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When people finally came to see her

One morning when I was going to the gym, I was shocked when I saw a young girl and the attendant lifting up the old lady to lay her on the floor where a homemade stretcher was placed. The old lady was dead.

For the next 24 to 36 hours, there was absolutely no one other than the attendant. The old lady’s body lay on the floor with the door open. After about 12 hours, a stone was placed on her feet, most probably because rigour mortis had started setting in.

The floor was full of the odour of gulab jal and incense stick fumes. It made one feel terribly uncomfortable, because it was created to mask the stench of the dead body.

After 36 hours, people started coming. 48 hours later, they started pouring in. The body was bathed in the middle of the common area in the apartment, disregarding parking problems.

The funeral rituals

On one side some type of fire was lit, the stretcher was created out of cane and bamboo. The rituals that we no longer see were all conducted in the common area of the apartment. So many people gathered that I could not take my car out, lest I disturb their last rites and rile them. I walked out and took an auto to work.

After coming back from work and since then for the next 3 days, there were more than 25 people coming for lunch and dinner. Footwear was constantly and shabbily scattered on the staircases. The floor smells of  aubergine cooked in oil and spices; spicy pulao and the sweets like besan ladoos and kheer.

Why our society is flawed

I have not written this because I want to judge either the relatives or the family of the old lady, but because I am part of the same society. I think this whole issue of the liability of the sick, old and marginalised people of society need our attention.

If old age is compared to childhood, and if it was said that a whole village is needed to bring up a kid, why is it not thought of about old age? Why not spend some part of your time through the week with an elderly person?

How are we responsible?

Attendants have become a necessity of modern living. However, we must all, by choice spend a specified time of the week with the elderly, helping them with their weekly shopping or chatting with them.

We can share with them things like how to use the phone to pay bills, how to use apps to order grocery etc. In that way, they get a chance to be abreast with technological advances of the present times.

There are countries, where we can create the account of our time spent in elder care and we can reimburse it in our old age.

They can still learn

It has been proven that even in geriatric age, people are capable of learning and retaining new concepts. Even if the fluid intelligence (new concepts) declines, crystallised intelligence (gained from experience) is good as a person ages. If new concepts are taught as a continuation of old, old people can learn quite satisfactorily.

They say, the problem of the coming era is not going to be illiteracy, but the inability of unlearning and relearning. Ageing adults still retain useful ability which can be utilised to carry out meaningful work.

Such worthwhile work can be created for the elderly, so they feel they still hold relevance in the society. This is the need of the hour, since life expectancy is increasing and all the young population of India will be old in the coming years.

The expectations need to change

Our expectations towards the elders need to change. The reason being that the on sided effect of our lowered expectations leads to negligence. This negligence, in its turn, leads to a multitude of them developing behavioural patterns that are now quite common. And these behavioural patterns, give rise to apathy from the younger generation.

When a kid is naughty or has behavioural problems, we correct her, then why not older adults?

Grandparents and grandchildren

In previous generations, grandparents and kids had special connection. The connection has almost disappeared. Most of the grandparents are so busy watching TV that they have hardly any time for imparting any cultural or spiritual values to the grandchildren.

Everywhere, I hear complaints from parents that even if the grandchildren are studying, the grandparents put on the TV full volume and refuse to switch it off even during exams.

Who’s responsible?

Hiding behind old age, they deny carrying out very simple tasks and expect that every little thing be handed to them as they sit on one place doing almost nothing other than being on WhatsApp or watching TV.

They invite friends or extended family, any time during the busy week, disregarding the schedule of the grandchildren and their own sons and daughters; because they are retired, and for them everyday is a holiday.

Even on the roads, they cross when the signals are off and put the blame on the people with vehicles, and accuse others for rash driving.

I think, negligence and apathy does not arise out of nothing and is almost never one-sided. The need of the hour is to be responsible, both as adults and their ageing parents for a healthier society.

Picture credits: Pexels

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