“The moral test of a State is how it treats the elderly; those who are in the dimness of life; the sick, the deprived and the handicapped.”
- Hubert H. Humphrey
I have seen quite a few of my classmates, friends and relatives depart this world before they reached 75 without being fortunate to experience the great independence and freewill that comes with aging. I remember many important things of past in school and early carrier but not what happened in the morning, a day before; worse why I chose to walk up to a place within the house, the purpose, gone blank in a couple of minutes. Yet nothing lost, it is a matter of making a few futile attempts to remember which never helped. Nothing lost; just return to the original place you will recollect why; but names of persons quite familiar with and committed to memory often goes empty too.
Image of the Noble Profession
Some medical specialists are in the habit of ridiculing the elderly who look for their advice, saying, ‘it is a case of old age, natural phenomenon and no cure’; the patient must tell them to treat you instead of such wicked discourtesy. A leading Ophthalmologist, it was reported, had mocked and ridiculed an Octogenarian -- the patient, a former Civil Servant on the basis of his age. He even quoted a verse from the ‘Guttila Kavya’, a 15th century satire to support his contempt. He had no admiration for the ‘touching life of an elderly. The victim a senior public servant wrote,
"I remember many important things of past in school and early carrier but not what happened in the morning, a day before; worse why I chose to walk up to a place within the house, the purpose, gone blank in a couple of minutes. Yet nothing lost, it is a matter of making a few futile attempts to remember which never helped"
“Recently I saw a leading Ophthalmologist to seek a cure for my dwindling eyesight. The Specialist examined my eyes and declared, ‘mata mahalu wayase beriya veena gaayanaa perase’ and his assistants giggled in response. Despite my discomfiture about that reaction, I explained that I was spending about four or five hours at the computer every day and the Specialist replied that the state of my optical nerves showed that such performance was unbelievable. No remedy was recommended and to my request for enhancing my reading vision, I was asked to see an optician. As I left, the Specialist was repeating the Guttila lines, creating another ripple of chuckles, much to my embarrassment. The question, “If so, of what use is your medicine?” was uppermost in my mind but I did not give expression to it out of courtesy.” The Ophthalmologist is certainly not learned in manners. He has stained the image of the noble profession.”
The authorities say, the latest life expectancy index for men in Sri Lanka stands at 75 years. The other day when I became lazy to dig through archives, while searching for historical facts and related information for an article, I felt it too.
Ignatz Nascher is called the father of geriatrics, a medical specialty invented by him 100 years ago and the author of “Geriatrics: The Diseases of Old Age and their Treatment”-1914. Nascher was a medical student and part of a team doing rounds in an American hospital when he came to a septuagenarian woman who was seriously ill. The lecturer avoided wasting time on her ‘diognising’ the case as ‘old age’ and nothing can be done. Inventing the term ‘geriatrics’, Nasher wrote his book several years later. A fitting response to our medical specialists who are pessimistic over treating the ‘old’. Geriatrics is defined as, “a branch of medicine dealing with the diseases, debilities and care of the aged persons”.
In the developed world aging is considered to be a problem; Japan, China, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Thailand are already in the group. Japan leads the oldest population, while China’s one-child per family has tilted the age demography. India, with its youthful population is becoming a gigantic global economic player.
They say, Sri Lanka is one of the fastest-aging countries in the world, with a significant proportion of the population aged 60 years or older projected to jump from 12.5% to 16.7% in 2021. Even though such demographic transition affects many countries, the speed of change is particularly dramatic for Sri Lanka. Many developing countries are listed as aging. Aging will create severe economic problems, according to economists. It will cause a slowdown in the growth of working populations compared to the past 10 years, causing problems with supply of labour.
Sri Lanka is steadily increasing in the proportion of the aged and is likely to double by 2030.
Welfare measures linked to healthcare are among the things that contributed to this increase.
Health service is the most significant service required in the case of the elders. In Sri Lanka the elderly are treated by the same group of medical personnel, satisfactorily competent to care for the general population. It could be stated that Geriatrics is a fairly unavailable section of medicine. The number of available Geriatricians in Sri Lanka is insignificant. We do not attempt to probe into why they do not branch out into numerous disciplines in the treatment of elders which is beyond the scope of this article.
Free healthcare has facilitated their prolonged existence. The most significant problems faced by the old-aged who depend on the state health service are as follows -- protracted waiting times for medicine, consultations and other services; unavailability of drugs, medicine and laboratory facilities; restricted access to specialized treatment; unavailability of appointment system.
As a habit, we consider sickness of the aged as something to be expected and need no special care. What cannot be cured has to be endured appears to influence their view when examining an elderly patient. No insult is intended but it is only an observation of what is seen around. Healthcare for the very old, who are virtually helpless or bed-ridden should be made available at their homes. We have a lot of old people because good doctors keep them alive.
Responsibility of State
Teaching of younger people on needs of the old, tolerance and understanding in a developing country like Sri Lanka is vital. However, one cannot blame the children, they have to focus on their immediate family and their own career. Quite apart from meeting essential healthcare needs, sufficient care for elders to stay at home, sheltered care, residential places, nursing homes and hospices with elderly accustomed care are a must.
The state must look into the financial scarcity of old age, there are those without a fixed monthly income like pension, interest on deposits and dividends from shares. Government must do a proper survey of such cases and pay a living pension. A welfare state concept is the most suitable in the above context. A sense of lethargy and alienation is generally associated with old age. Loss of loved ones and friends of the same age; loss of status and of a role adversely affect the elderly. Admit the reality; we will have a big elderly population with equally high costs of care. Do everything achievable to maintain their physical condition with sound precautionary policies. Make them as productive as likely to be by finding positions for them in society which are commonly helpful.
Cheerful and Undefeated
I do not feel desolate over my body, the grey and falling hair, the sagging butt, wrinkles, the shapeless eyes. I keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, cheerful, reverent that is to conquest over old age. Old age is a pleasant thing—it comes on swiftly, and not slowly as is thought.Though you are smoothly shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a relaxed, calm front stall as an observer. For the first time in my life I am now, the man I have always wanted to be.
‘Out of the blue’; Bumped into ‘Deadline-75’
I’m now more kind to myself, and less critical of myself. Being born to this world on June 14, 1943, the writer who impatiently lingered to be 75 is a happy old man who eagerly awaits his turn in the departure lounge to proceed to the Great Beyond sooner than later.
Earnest Hemmingway says…
“Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.” :
Pg 10—‘OLD MAN AND THE SEA’
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