When I was a little girl, from as far back as I can remember, I liked elderly people, specifically women.
Besides my beloved Greek Yiayia, there were two other ladies, both Greek, who I attached myself to.
One was on the island of Crete where I grew up and she lived near our home. I’d visit her often and not only for the sweets. I loved the stories and the photos…. and the attention.
When we moved to Australia I couldn’t speak English. It was a battle; the missing of my family, the island and my father and the struggle to communicate in this new country. It’s a familiar story for most migrants. However I was thrilled to find an old Greek lady lived alone next to our new home. I soon started visiting.
We’d sit in her lounge room and she’d tell me about her husband who had passed, her son who visited every forth Sunday and how she missed Greece. When I think back I realise she was lonely and sometimes quite sad but at the time it was just a feeling like I should leave. When she wasn’t struggling we’d had a lovely time, she’d give me compliments and Turkish delight and, most importantly, we’d speak in Greek about her life.
I tell you this as background for the news story opinion piece I had published this week on News.com.au. Here’s the link.
The Sin of Aging
The way we treat our elderly isn’t just bad for them, it seals a painful fate for us all.
When we see the knuckled vein hands on the television news and hear about wounds not being cleaned properly or an 80 year old getting boxed around the head for not eating his minestrone, it gives us a window to our own future.
And let’s be honest, humans spend a significant part of their life focused on what’s next, the all-important future. We surrender years to study in anticipation of a better job. We commit a lifetime to earning in hopes of one day owning a property and enjoying financial security. We are all about the destination.
The stories stemming from the Royal Commission into Aged Care send a clear signal that once we have served our time in the workforce, when our faces are no longer Insta-appropriate, when we are frail or confused then society may not care.
A sentence awaits us. The crime is not dying young.
I grew up in Greece. It was not perfect. No society is. But the senior members of my community were viewed with the most respect. You never insulted someone for being old. Instead people were defined by their life achievements.
He was a great man who repaired shoes and did it for free if you were poor. He hid women and children in his workshop during the war. This was said of my grandfather. He in turn would tell well-worn stories, me on his lap, my aunts and uncles wearing that glint of pride in their eyes.
She bore nine children and also cared for the widow down the road who had no family. My grandmother was too humble to say much but there was something in the way everyone was drawn to her, a silent admiration so I just knew that her very long life was filled with struggles and joy and now she was content.
Elderly visitors to our home would be introduced via a life highlight; the strict teacher, a brave soldier, the maker of olive oil so nutritious it made your skin glow almost instantly. They were stories awash with indulgent reminiscing.
I was only young. These are a child’s memories. But they planted the seeds of respect for the elderly, an admiration for surviving life all the way into grey hair and lined skin. And every time I hear about the way we are treating our senior citizens I want to cry, ‘They deserve better’ and ‘Doesn’t everyone realise that we are damning ourselves?’
By not protecting and respecting our elderly we are telling everyone that what they do today won’t matter tomorrow. One day we are going to grow frail and maybe suffer abuse. Either way, we shall be pitied and most likely dismissed. Our life stories inconsequential.
It effectively hangs the sword of Damocles over all our heads. Yes, it’s good to be young, strong and powerful but the clock is ticking, the great enemy of aging is creeping upon us and it will be brutal. Not only will you die, but the final years of your life could be a living nightmare.
No wonder insecurity, depression and anxiety are rife. There’s a sense of danger lurking. And that’s not far from the truth. We are heading to a place where we could be unheard, unseen and in pain.
This needs to stop.
A new message must be woven through the fabric of our society and that needs to start with our treatment of the elderly. At the very least they must be cared for to the best possible level of physical comfort.
Not only did they earn it but we want the same for ourselves, don’t we?
Raising kids, chasing ambitions, working instead of lazing, this should mean something. We are the beneficiaries of those before us. And when it’s our turn to release the reigns there needs to be an element of peaceful resignation and comfort that we will be cared for as much as possible. That our elected government won’t ignore our neglect. That when we are sick there will be enough nurses and doctors to treat us. Most of us will stay in our homes but if we need to go to residential care unit we have nothing to fear.
Currently only five precent of older Australians live in care. However, as the number of people aged 65 and over in Australia doubles to 8.8 million, over the next 40 years, that precent will shift.
And remaining in your own home is fine for elderly Australian who can afford it but what about the issue of increased homelessness? Will reliance on aged care, particularly in the public sector, rise?
To my count, we have been talking about elder abuse and neglect for over a decade so feigning surprise is no longer appropriate. They are our elders and we need to implement better care for them because they are us and we are them.
I’m an idealist which is currently out of fashion. However ideals are exactly what we need when it comes to taking care of the elderly. Otherwise we will continue hearing these stories of abuse and neglect until they are about us.
All the best,