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     Volume 8 Issue 98 | December 18, 2009 |

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Living with Dignity

Nadia Kabir Barb

Another year seems to have passed by and I feel as if I hardly even blinked. It is with a pang that I will say goodbye to 2009. Not because it has been a particularly spectacular year, on the contrary, over the last year with the world economy in a state of meltdown and people losing jobs everywhere, it has been a less than great year for many. In a more selfish way, I am becoming aware that each passing year makes us just that much older. Please don't misunderstand me, I am not talking about wanting to stay young forever or searching for the elixir of youth. My concern is more about the affliction old age can bring with it. I know I have years to go before I fall into that category but it is distressing to read stories in the newspaper or hear about elderly people being neglected and abused.

The other day I was in my car and I stopped at a zebra crossing. I was struck by a little old lady trying to get across the road. She had a scarf tied around her head and a coat that was slightly large for her. She was bent over double and was struggling to pull a little shopping basket on wheels behind her. The short journey across was laborious and protracted. All the while her gnarled hands, probably deformed from chronic arthritis, were trying desperately to keep a hold on her trolley. I found it heart wrenching to watch. If I could have stepped out of the car to help her, I would have. But there was already a traffic jam building up behind me due to the lady's slow progress and it probably would not have been met with approval or patience by my fellow drivers. I kept thinking that to have to venture out in the bitter cold to do the shopping at her advanced age, without any help was unbelievably sad. I found myself wondering where her family might be, did she even have anyone to care for her or look after her or was she just one of the many old people who had been abandoned by their children once they had outgrown their usefulness.

How people can turn their backs on their parents when they are at their most vulnerable and need their support is something that most of us find difficult to comprehend but it happens and these days it happens more and more frequently. Nowadays, with the nuclear family becoming increasingly desirable, joint families are becoming obsolete even in Bangladesh.

There are those who are fortunate enough to be independent and lead a perfectly active and fulfilling life after retirement or when they have reached a certain age and do not require the assistance or financial aid of their loved ones. But sadly there are far more elderly people who are unable to generate enough income to support themselves and are at times beholden to their families for monetary assistance. To some, looking after elderly parents is considered a burden and a responsibility that they are reluctant to take on. At an age where parents should be looked after and cared for, they are instead, left to fend for themselves.

In the UK, studies have shown that elderly people living alone have a lower quality of life, which includes a poorer diet as they are less likely to cook or maintain a balanced diet, and also not take as much physical activity as is necessary for healthy living.

A few days ago I was telling my cousin about the little old lady at the zebra crossing and how desperately distressing it was just watching her. She said it reminded her of her elderly neighbour who also walked with a stoop due to various medical ailments but still insisted on going out to the shops and venturing to the park to feed the birds. Even at the age of ninety one she valued her independence and wanted to live with a sense of self respect and dignity.

Despite the fact that she had on numerous occasions
fallen and hurt herself, she had always insisted on returning to her home. Home was a small flat bursting at the seams with old paper, packaging, wrappers and years worth of things accumulated and never discarded. She also had to sleep on a chair as she found it impossible to lie comfortably on a bed due to an old shoulder injury.

However, a few months ago my cousin had to rush her neighbour to hospital as she had fallen and broken her hip and her leg. Subsequently, Social Services took the decision that she was no longer able to look after herself and was moved to a nursing home once she had recovered from her injuries.

My cousin said that it was heart breaking to see her at the nursing home as the lady seemed to have had her spirit completely broken. She appeared fragile and vulnerable. My cousin was then shocked when her neighbour informed her that the staff was verbally and physically abusing her. She was in tears and desperate to leave and return once again to her home. In comparison to the nursing home, it must have felt like a safe haven to her. It was apparent to the staff that she had no regular visitors apart from my cousin who obviously was not family and a woman who worked in the bank the lady had her account in. Possibly they felt that they were not accountable to anyone as she did not have any next of kin taking responsibility. My cousin took that duty upon her and lodged a complaint immediately and the management have told her they would look into the situation.

What is tragic is that this type of bullying is not just restricted to children but to the elderly as well as they are not always able to defend themselves against physical or mental abuse and it is abhorrent and unacceptable.

I think people forget that how we treat our elders will be reflected in the way our children treat us. I hope that when I am old and unable to carry my shopping bags or am too weak to move from one place to another, my children will be there to hold my hand and offer me a shoulder to lean on. Only time will tell..



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