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Elders left to the mercy of circumstances - Editorial

2013-10-01 04:46:06
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The bitter truth about the International Day of Elders or Older Persons which falls today with International Children’s Day is that while many authorities, NGOs and INGOs hold functions in view of it, thousands of elders are languishing and dying in hospitals and homes without the help of even their beloved sons and daughters, under unavoidable circumstances.

Death is not an issue to complain about since it is inevitable for any creature; though it comes timely or untimely, but  the pathetic part of the story is that many elderly fathers and mothers who not only brought up their sons and daughters to take up the responsibility of the world, but also dedicated themselves for the sustenance and the progress of the entire mankind, have to die without the help of a single human being at least to have a sip of water, not because of their fault, but because of the societal make-up of the country they live in.

When an elder who falls ill is admitted to one of our hospitals, the staff of the hospital would demand that one relative of the patient stays back to attend to him or her. This is a difficult demand to fulfil for today’s smaller families which in most cases comprise the breadwinner, his or her spouse and members who are schooling or too young for the purpose.

In villages where closely-knit families live in cluster-like environments the family members of the elderly patient would in most cases find a relative to look after the patient at the hospital, since the bond between relatives is still strong in villages, whereas in urban areas many families are cut off from their blood relatives and even if there are relatives around, they are not self-employed as in those villages to get time off to attend to the patient. Then the only option the patient’s relatives are left with would be to seek the assistance, though costly, of a paid outsider, who waits nowadays at the gates of the hospital or sometimes inside the ward itself, sometimes with the knowledge of the hospital staff.

Interestingly there are now unofficial firms that hire out such attendants and they charge fees ranging from Rs. 800 to Rs. 1500 per day, something an ordinary family that draws a monthly income of about Rs. 15,000 or less would find difficult to afford.  Some such attendants doing “private practice” take over the responsibility of two or more patients at a time, with or without the knowledge of the patients’ families. They do part of the cleaning of the patients and feed them, though many official attendants hesitate to do so. Thus the attendant service has now been somewhat privatised.



" When an elder who falls ill is admitted to one of our hospitals, the staff of the hospital would demand that one relative of the patient stays back to attend to him or her. This is a difficult demand to fulfil for today’s smaller families "


Even if the poor or middle class families of the patients agree to this process, they would be exhausted within days and left destitute and the elderly father or mother would have to bear the brunt. Then the doctors would ask the family members to take the patient home and serve him or her with whatever he or she likes. With this ringing in their ears like a death announcement and with the economic burden wringing the family they are most likely to be pushed to a point between love and desperation, that might ultimately taper off the care for the patient.  

This is the pathetic situation in many families though it is mutually covered up. It desperately demands the State and the society to frame an advanced health care system and a social welfare and a social security system, especially for the elders. 


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