When we discuss elderly safety, we talk mostly about the major risks of living alone and plan how to alleviate issues arising. The discussion is usually about physical injuries—the risk of falling and accidents, prescription overdoses, malnutrition or undernutrition and unaccounted-for symptoms of illnesses.
There are also financial safety issues. Some do not have sufficient income or revenue from pensions or grants or familial support to adequately meet daily expenses especially where greater spending is a factor as a result of ill health or from the demands for better nutrition, medicines and supplements. Some elderly are robbed of their money, possessions, and pensions by relatives and guardians, too.
The mental health discussion about seniors living alone centres around loneliness and its effects, isolation, aloneness, and the like. Anxiety could be an issue among the elderly stemming from the overwhelming feelings associated with aloneness/loneliness and other issues of health, finances, death, and living.
Depression too, stems from multiple sources including loneliness, exaggerated lengths of aloneness, lack of external stimulation or community/social activities and brain malfunction which may come with ageing.
Imagine having never had to deal with any mental illnesses or physical conditions until you reach an age when you are less likely to be able to cope with such conditions. If you have been well all your life how do you prepare for the ills and complications that accompany ageing?
I am unaware of how robust our senior citizens’ programmes are in T&T, but if we look at our social welfare overall, one may become insecure about growing old in our system of social security and social safety, especially if one’s wealth or family’s wealth would not provide for what is certain to occur in many elderly people.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the bane of our elderly globally. In T&T, it accounts for over 65 per cent of premature deaths of people between the ages of 30 to 69. But morbidity, especially of diabetes, cancers, heart disease, strokes and chronic lung diseases are firstly, expensive to treat, and secondly prevalent among the ageing.
People are living longer worldwide, as in T&T, and that makes for larger portfolios of the elderly living with NCDs and needing care.
Elder abuse is a major concern, too, from relatives and others. There have been many news reports and some research studies done to show how rampant this issue has become in T&T.
I have recently been privy to observing an elder being left alone every day for months on end and, sometimes, seemingly locked in a bedroom if one is to believe the cries and expressions of the individual who kept saying they were locked in.
My agony over the person’s constant distress cries and aggressive acting out prompted me to press the relative in charge and others concerned for interventions. Not because I am nosy, but because I could hear the constant pained expressions and it hurt me immensely. It made me consider what could be my circumstances if I am elderly and incapacitated.
Among all of these issues of elder living and especially living alone, as I age, despite not being in any isolated situation, is my own heightened insecurity about personal safety here.
Time and again the news of the elderly being victims of crime, suffering sundry abuses at the hands of intruders, with home invasions in the day and night, would reach us. For a brief moment, the national community would cry out before we return to our normal routine and wait for the next incident.
Two recent occurrences in close proximity have deepened my dread and anxiety. The news of the brutal killing and alleged/suspected rape of a 76-year-old woman who was found dead in her bedroom has my body in tremors.
The reporting created a deep disturbance for me. So, I guardedly raised it with a person in her community who flippantly said, “She was liming and drinking with them fellas the evening before” and moved immediately to another topic without a breath for the seriousness of the infraction. It was almost like “she looked for that” and my jaw dropped with how desensitised we have become.
Having not recovered from that callousness or the brutality just yet, yesterday I noticed a friend exclaiming on Facebook about an 87-year-old being raped. It sickened my soul. When I raised the subject later, I discovered that the incident and the arrest of a 24-year-old were in my home community.
Once upon a time, we used to say that living in the “country areas” was safe and that here was a paradise.
That was a long time ago in a time when we were less vile, debased and uncaring; when we regarded everyone’s life as precious and we had respect for the elderly.
Now, no one is safe from the brutality and criminality. Ageing is difficult by itself and I am aggrieved for our elderly who are apparently defenceless at the hands of these brute beasts.
Caroline Ravello is a strategic communications and media professional and a public
health practitioner. She
holds an MA with merit in mass communications (University of Leicester) and is a master of public health with distinction (UWI). Write to