The irony is not lost on us that a tiny nation that shares a unique distinction with Japan as having the highest number of centenarians per capita on earth would not make more noise as it observes Senior Citizens Month.
The celebrations in honour of this nation’s builders got off to their usual yawn-filled start on Sunday. The fault is not in our organizers but in ourselves.
And yet it is not quite so disturbing that despite an ever-aging demographic, it is not cool to grow old in Barbados. Forty-somethings are considered over the hill. The relentless drive to the fountain of youth is fuelled by anti-aging creams, treatments, hair dyes and surgeries.
But perhaps the troubling revelations from Minister of Elder Affairs Cynthia Forde give us insight into why our seniors are not feted and valued, barring the much-publicised centenarian visits by the Governor General and birthday cards from the Queen.
At a church service marking the 38th anniversary of the National Assistance Board and to start Senior Citizens Month last Sunday, the minister declared that abuse of the elderly was still prevalent.
“And this abuse comes in all forms and fashions. A lot of them are sexually abused as well and it is important that all of us work together.”
She also said there were “pressing challenges” like discrimination based on age, gender, health and other issues.
“We must act urgently to protect the rights of the elderly, as we do for any other age group in society,” Forde stressed.
Difficult as it is to come to terms with why some would abuse their aging and ailing ancestors, we find her comments are sadly not surprising.
We are all too familiar with the horror stories of our seniors being abandoned by relatives at the Accident and Emergency Department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital or the Geriatric hospital. Worse, still, are tales of elderly home care workers mistreating those under their charge.
Last year, there were 29 cases of neglect for the first three months of 2017, and another 40 cases were yet to be investigated, according to the then Chairman of the National Assistance Board Dr David Durant.
Just think, then, of the unreported cases.
Added to the neglect are cases of financial abuse – outright theft – where greedy relatives and acquaintances prey on the lifelong savings and the hard-earned pensions of seniors for their selfish gains.
And now we are inundated with rising a tide of sexual abuse.
This is unacceptable and beyond ministerial bluster, there must bold action by lawmakers to ramp up penalties for such a heinous crime against our elders.
Such is an appalling indictment on our society. Where has the respect gone for our old folks? What does preying upon them as easy marks really say of our mirror image?
It is a disgrace that some adults could so badly lack compassion that they would treat their elderly family members cruelly and take advantage of them.
After years of hard work and sacrifice, those who have left us a goodly heritage of pride and industry deserve to live their twilight years in ease and comfort.
And this is especially noteworthy in a society where for all its youth-obsessed parading, more of us are living to ripe old age than ever before.
As an ageing society, the time has come for us to better develop greater compassion, care and support of our senior folk.
We have to put systems in place that can benefit our elderly citizens and ensure their golden years are just that – golden.
It would be a no-brainer that there be more senior day care centres where elders can engage in worthwhile, easy activities like gardening, or baking, or painting and even exercising. This would help to eliminate the loneliness that so many elders have to endure.
And yet, after 35 years, St Barnabas Church Senior Day Care Centre, remains a lonely standard-bearer among both charities and the private sector in providing alternative care of the elderly.
We would urge the Minister of Elder Affairs to consider her own Marshall Plan for elderly care centres not dissimilar to the roll-out of a raft of preschools nationwide by the last administration – albeit with mostly philanthropic cash.
For all that they have achieved and sacrifice for we who follow, indeed for all they continue to accomplish, our older citizens deserve our heartfelt thanks and salute.
We can best demonstrate our gratitude and esteem by making sure that our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older; places in which older people can participate to the fullest and can find encouragement, acceptance, assistance and services they need to continue to lead lives of dignity.
Time to change the ending of an old, old story of the way we live now.