Apr 6, 2012

Not always gold [96/365]

source: globalhealth.usc.edu
The World Health day.
One of the 175 awareness days that you'll celebrate this year.

And the theme for this year's World Health day was 'Aging and Health'.
The word 'Aging' has become such a taboo, thanks to the many many creams that promise to stop (and even reverse) aging in just one week.

Thanks to a healthcare system that is improving, it is estimated that in a few years, India will have millions of people over the age of 60. Add that to the billion globally. It is true that we are living longer than we used to.
But is living longer really worth it?

A paternal aunt of mine, in her late 80s, has been living in a Home for the Aged for the past six years.
Her story is so heart-wrenching that there is no easy way to say it.
In her glory days, she was a strong woman who took care of her husband, her career, her children and her brother (my dad). She lost her husband three decades ago, but she stayed and made sure her sons were well educated and settled.
(She must have done a great job because her sons did do incredibly well. Settled abroad, they married, divorced and married again.)
In the meanwhile, my aunt lived alone in the house with the memories of her husband for about 27 years before one of her son decided to sell the house she was staying in lock, stock and barrel and take her and the money to Canada.
But she couldn't bear the culture shock or the frigid weather and returned to India six months later, emaciated and disillusioned.

With no house to stay in and relatives unwilling to put up with her mood swings, she was bundled up in a day care center. It's both surprising and shocking what isolation can do to a person's mind.
She actually lost it.

Over the next 2 years, she was shuttled between 'Old Age homes', which really didn't know how to care for her. Well meaning relatives wanted her to be close to them, but in the process put her in the hands of those who neither had the patience nor the expertise to care for a senile mind that was loosing it's delicate balance.
A year ago, she had a fall. Though not fatal, it shook her confidence. While she was still recovering, she slipped again. This shattered her confidence. Wheelchair bound, she's never walked again after that. She was steadily loosing her memory too. She knew something was wrong but didn't have the knowledge or the strength to fix it herself. Her frustration grew. She become unpredictable and uncontrollable. She needed expert help and fast.

Thankfully, she is in better hands now. In the care of a Home for people with dementia, she is finally able to smile.
For people like her, it does not matter if the weather is getting worse or if the world flips over. All that matters is that she does not suffer the ignominy of dependence and helplessness.
Their needs are simple. Their wants are minimal. At the sunset of their lives, all they want is a little bit of respect and lots of love. Companionship would be great, but where does the children have the time for that?

Looking at how a capable and confident woman like my aunt has become a shell of her former self and the way her children have treated her, we pray every time we meet. Though she was never a spiritual person, she joins in our prayers almost with a silent desperation. She does not like how things have turned out, but she does not know who to blame. Herself? Or the Children, who outgrew their mother?

Life is cruel. When we are young, we have the power to conquer and rule. As we age, we relinquish that might. We are led more often than we'd lead. We go where we are told to, instead of going where we want to.

A word of advice to parents raising children: 'Be careful of how you raise your children. For they are going to be the ones who will decide how you'll live when you grow old.'

Recommended Reading :
A CNN Report on the World Health Day
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