Hardly a month goes by in Barbados without some elderly folk celebrating his/her 100th birthday.
And the fourth weekend of July was extra special for Millicent Yearwood. As reported in the Press she was celebrating 105 years!
It was certainly a joy to see and read of her alertness, some degree of independence and the festive atmosphere at her home with all the grands and great-grands – even great-great grands.
The highlight of her special milestone should remind us that Barbadians are living longer. This fact in itself presents a challenge for the families concerned and the government.
The challenge for the former is really nothing other than fulfilling a basic moral obligation on the part of the elderly person’s family.
In commenting on the care of the elderly, Paul advised Timothy: “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God” (1Timothy 5:3,4).
Even though this admonition was written to a Christian community its principle needs to be adhered to in the wider society. Especially so in Barbados where there is the ever increasing practice of elderly abandonment.
Admittedly, it is not an easy task caring for an elderly relative. It is even more taxing if that person has developed one of the maladies usually associated with aging – Alzheimer’s, diabetes, mobility problems, etc.
What really should happen is a shared care giving, spread among the elderly person’s relatives – particularly the children.
Where one might be able to put in the care during the daylight hours, another can take over during the night hours, and yet another can be responsible for overseeing visits to the doctor, polyclinic or outpatient clinic.
In this ideal situation everyone is taking part and shouldering the responsibility of parent care and no one is overwhelmed and experiences care-giver burnout.
However, in most situations the ideal is not the reality. Rather, the burden rests on one child, grandchild, niece or nephew. And the only “relief” this person gets is when the elderly person has to be hospitalized.
What is worst is that sometimes this lone (and lonely) caregiver works and also has his/her own children and spouse to look after!
In such a situation the caregivers might think that their parents might be better cared for in an institutionalized environment where there is 24-hour monitoring. However, in Barbadian society a lot of guilt and shame is associated with such a decision; but caregivers will have to seriously consider what is best for everyone.
But having weighed all pros and cons caregivers will also have to decide whether care should be provided by a private or government agency. The former is extremely costly, so most Barbadians caregivers will opt for the latter.
This being the case, government would then have to change its perceptions and policies with regards to the aging population of Barbados.
Just because most elderly folks are incapacitated in some way, it does not mean that all are.
This point was succinctly made in the editorial “Aging Not An Illness” of the March 03 issue, Barbados TODAY.
Then in the June 19, 2012 issue of the same newspaper, in an article titled “New Way” the Barbados National Report on Aging (2007-2011) is quoted as stating:
“Income security and comprehensive health and social welfare provisions have been available for some time. However, national responses to emerging issues in the social and health care sector have not kept pace with Barbados’ status as a leading developing country, several gaps exist in the policy and programmatic offerings…”
This column joins with consultant Springer and his team in urging that the recommends of the report “be used as a broad based template for evaluating national efforts on behalf of older persons between 2012-2017.”
This way elderly care on the national level will include a great deal more than hospitalized accomodation.