Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Are senior citizens treated well by society?

Senior citizens have of late become a subject for discussion due to a variety of reasons. This paper recently published a report on the housing, medical care and legal rights of the elderly.

Ever since I stepped into the league of “senior citizens,” I have been trying to understand the need for such a term, whether this term really helps those who are beyond 60 and what should have been done apart from just coining this term. In Tamil Nadu, the term ‘perisu’ is very commonly used for older people and that too, with extreme derision.

Generally, all over the world, the categorisation of senior citizens is based purely on age. This varies anywhere between 55 and 65. A very painful definition of a senior citizen has been given as “a person who lacks basic motor skills and the ability to hear, drive, stand up straight, walk, think clearly, or provide basic financial support for him/her self.”

But surprisingly, the term senior citizen is not used for those who are over 60 but are active in politics or running industries. The present government at the Centre is being run by senior citizens only, going by the ages of the Ministers! Does it mean that a person over 60, but not working per se, is to be termed a senior citizen? It is indeed intriguing.

Mental trauma

Senior citizens are first ‘senior’ not only because of their age, but because they have much more experience than the rest of the population and as ‘citizens’ they have the right to participate in the affairs of society and the community. But the actual situation is far from this perceived description. As a previously working and earning person slides into the ‘senior citizen’ slot, he automatically undergoes a mental trauma, as society and the government start treating him as a load on the existing system.

But more disturbing is the noticeably growing distance in human relationships at all levels. Kind words are at a premium today. The young are busy with their careers, the middle-aged with achieving position and prestige and everyone with competition and the resultant rat race. Technology has drastically cut into inter-communication between people and has seriously reduced normal conversations.

Senior citizens can probably extend a hand of support, words of solace and the healing touch to those around them. I have seen many senior citizens hesitate on account of a feeling that they may not be welcome. Unsolicited advice is not usually welcome, but a heart-to-heart talk is.

If senior citizens can resist the temptation to give out advice, they would find many willing ears. The critical relationships are those with the younger members of the family.

The relationships are good where both the senior and the younger members have their own separate spheres of freedom and mutual respect. Under these conditions, it is easy for both to come together and enjoy each other’s company. If coming together is not out of choice but through compulsion, then the relationships are likely to develop strains sooner than later. Creating one’s own sphere of freedom is crucial for the senior citizens.

Lack of concern

The area where the senior citizens suffer the most is the total lack of concern of the government and society for the practical difficulties they encounter in their daily life — whether it be waiting in a queue inside an office or at a bus stop outside or understanding the modern gadgets of communication, documents, etc., or the simple task of getting on to the pavement (which is inexplicably built at a height of 14 inches from the road). The list is endless.

Most organisations understand that “quality service” is the key to attracting and retaining customers. This concept of “customer service” can be quite different when working with senior citizens. An organisation’s employees should be sensitive to the special needs of some of the senior citizens.

Many retirees struggle with hearing and vision loss. Their mobility may be restricted, they may be in pain, and it may just simply take them a bit longer to do normal things. A young teller or a new accounts-person may not appreciate the physical challenges faced by the elderly and may well be impatient and rude. To counter this behaviour, it is important to properly train the staff on how to relate to and service the elderly.

By B. Lakshminarayanan


I salute to Seniors and seek their blessings and advice for what ever I do - Sailesh

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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