The following article has appeared in the Madras Musings issue dated November 16-30, 2015
Age is only a number
When you can enjoy a carefree life!My mother-in-law, a highly independent woman who died at the ripe age of 89, spent the last six years of her life in a Senior citizen home. In the early years I would bring her home for a week every month, thinking that it would make her happy. One day, she apparently told my driver; “I don’t know why my son-in-law brings me home every month. I am very happy in the home with a lot of new friends to talk to and I am free to do what I like. Here I spend the whole day only watching TV or listen to music. People hardly talk to me. Everybody is so busy..”
I met a retired senior government official, a lady who, inspite of all her six children staying in the city, chose to stay in the Home, because she wanted to lead an independent life. While her children are in regular touch with her, she makes it a point to attend all family functions.
I also met a few others from that Home. Many of them had sold their properties or rented out their homes to settle down in the well run Senior citizen Home. They not only made new friends but also indulged in hobbies for which they had no time earlier. Even the few, who felt bad initially, began to adjust to the new environment and enjoy their stay. All of them agreed it was a comfortable life without the day to day responsibilities and problems faced when living alone.
No problem of running after the “hard-to-get” plumber, electrician, carpenter, or the ordeal of wading through the heartless traffic of the city to visit the bank, post office or other places; or living in fear of unscrupulous elements who have started attacking senior citizens staying alone in cities like Chennai.
Many of the homes are built on the outskirts of a city, with good ambience, with senior citizen friendly facilities. All of them offer house keeping service so that the inmates don`t have to worry about the maintenance of their places. Most of them try to offer healthy and quality food befitting the requirements of senior citizens, supplied from a common kitchen. Some Homes even have provisions for playing indoor games like chess, carom and cards and a library where they can read newspapers/magazines and books. A few also boast of a private temple with prayer hall facilities where regular programmes are held for the benefit of the inmates. Almost every one of the Homes has special tie ups with Hospitals nearby for emergencies. Some even have a small clinic with basic testing facilities and paramedical staff available 24x7.
With the joint family system breaking down and nuclear families being the norm these days, old people find themselves to be of nuisance value to their children. There are also cases of old people who don’t have the energy or mindset to look after their grand children with office going parents. Obviously the old values are changing where people, both young and old, are becoming more self centered.
It is no more a stigma on the children if their parents voluntarily choose to stay in senior citizen homes which provide them the necessary independence, comfort and the company of new friends with similar backgrounds. The main problem with such homes is that they are not equipped to handle seriously ill or terminally ill patients. Though they have the ambulance facilities to take an inmate to a hospital when the need arises, If the person is required to stay in the hospital for some days they expect some relative or friend to take over the job of attender/caretaker. If the patient has no one to care for, then there is a major problem.
This problem has been addressed in a Home I visited in Coimbatore . The able bodied inmates of the Home have formed a support group which comes to the rescue of inmates without any friends or relatives.
Senior Citizen Homes with attached hospices ( there are not many) or with facilities for providing full time attendants are alternatives which can be considered by working couples who have old and infirm people who need constant help and attention. I understand that Bangalore has many such well-run hospices.
Food is another issue I heard people complain about in many Homes. Obviously food cooked in the common kitchen cannot satisfy all the palates in terms of taste and choice of items. But residents get used to the menu and also the different routines followed by different Homes.
No wonder, in order to cater to the growing number of senior citizens, hundreds of Homes are sprouting up all over the country. Coimbatore has scores of very well run Homes but Chennai is yet to catch up in terms of numbers.
While there are enough such Homes coming up to look after the economically well off senior citizens, such facilities are woefully lacking for middle and lower class people. A lot more could be done by the Government or NGOs with support from corporate sector in this area..
Having visited a few such homes and stayed in a few on an experimental basis I personally witnessed the good times that many of the inmates are having in the company of new friends who help in getting rid of the feeling of loneliness which many senior citizens experience while living alone in flats or independent homes. I would say it is an option worth considering by people who have reached the end of their useful lives and who are financially independent; to spend their twilight years- carefree!.