Ensuring The Well-Being Of The Aged


By Bilikis Bakare

Apart from death which everybody knows is inevitable and unstoppable, one other reality that comes to all and cannot be stopped is old age. In the words of Charles “Chili” Theodore Davis, a Jamaican-born base ball player: “growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional”.

And to give succour to those who are afraid of getting old and, therefore, see the process as a death sentence, Confucius, a Chinese teacher, editor, politician and philosopher, who lived between 551- 479 BC advised thus; “Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing.

It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator”. The actual age that can be attained for one to be qualified as being old differs from one culture to the other.

But according to Victor Hugo – a French poet, novelist and dramatist, “Forty is the old age of youth, while fifty is the youth of old age”. Therefore, averagely, one is initiated into the class of the elderly from the age of sixty.

The process of ageing, although should not come as a surprise due to its slowness in coming, it catches up with most people unexpectedly because they erroneously do not plan for this unavoidable landmark in their lives; as old age brings with it various physical, psychological, mental and emotional changes and above all health related problems that often need medical intervention.

One of the biggest challenges being faced at old age is brittle bones and gradual loss of balance, resulting in falls and oftentimes fractures and head injuries. And due to loneliness, elderly people could feel depressed, a condition often overlooked by their families as being normal.

Memory loss is also one of the most common challenges faced by the elderly all over the world. This could be in form of forgetting where they placed an item or just forgetting things easily.

However, if they forget names of people they regularly interact with or recent events or lose trail of sentences mid way, these portend danger as a medical condition referred to as dementia should be suspected and treated by a medical expert.

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Usually, the elderly are seen exhibiting the traits of children, such as picking their food or generally lacking appetite for food. This may be due to depression or dental problem. In addition, they experience loss of sensation, that is, they do not feel pain or the taste of excess salt in food as well as loss of hearing and sensation of touch. Urine and stool incontinence is a common problem among the elderly. While prostate problem is usually the cause in men, stress incontinence is fingered as the cause in women.

It is essential that everyone prepares for old age early, in order to prevent  the aforementioned challenges being faced by the elderly and for one to age gracefully. The importance of eating vegetables and fruits which experts observe are rich in antioxidants which slow down the process of ageing cannot be overemphasised. Sticking to the consumption of fresh, home cooked food as much as possible and cutting down on junk food is also very important to prevent hypertension, diabetes, etc.

Embarking on regular physical exercises like jogging and walking tend to improve flexibility and balance preventing falls and fractures arising from osteoporosis [brittle bones] in old age. Six to seven hours of good quality sleep, everyday goes a long way of preventing stress. Alcohol consumption as well as smoking and chewing of tobacco should be avoided. Annual checkups should be taken seriously, particularly after forty years of age. Women at this age should undergo Pap smear and mammogram at least once every two years, while men should be screened for testicular, prostate and colon cancer.

But by far the most important need of the aged which are often overlooked by their families is companionship, either by their age groups or their loved ones. In the olden days Africa, relatives, both nuclear and extended took turn in taking care of the elderly in their families. They share the burden of making life as enjoyable as possible for the aged, with each member of the family being aware of his or her responsibility towards achieving this goal.

However, as civilization crept in and as many people as possible embrace foreign and western ways of living, coupled with rural-urban migration in search of improved economic empowerment, the practice of communal way of looking after the aged is gradually being eroded. Therefore, in order to bridge this gap, it is important to embrace another more convenient and organised way of caring for these senior citizens- the institutionalization of caring for the aged.

The institutionalization of caring for the aged, although an innovation which is somewhat alien to the African culture, as can be seen in various old people’s homes set up by government and some religious bodies, like the type on in Lancaster Street in Yaba, Lagos, built by the State Government and the one in the premises of Regina Mundi Catholic Church also in Mushin, Lagos is an innovation geared at promoting good rapport among these elderly people and also help them to compare notes. The intervention is a welcome relief as it is now a common, particularly in urban areas to see these senior citizens begging for alms. And to forestall this, it is wise to embrace this new way of giving the elderly a sense of belonging.

Also in both Ekiti and Osun states, the governments have made it as a priority to give monthly welfare stipends to their respective senior citizens to augment whatever their families provide for them. This is a welcome development. Similarly, in Lagos, the Council Of Wives of Lagos State Officials [COWLSO], has gone a step further by building a state of the art facility called COWLSO Retirement Villa to cater for these senior citizens who have served the nation in their primes. The villa has various recreational and relaxation facilities like gymnasium, guest house for lodging, sport facilities, game rooms where traditional games like ‘Ayo’ and draught can be played.

It is important to bear in mind that a lot can be done by the various stakeholders and groups in the society to make the elderly feel secure, comfortable and wanted. But, perhaps, the most important need of the aged is for family members and loved ones to spend quality  time with them. It is, however, important for the aged to follow religiously all the ‘dos’  and ‘don’ts’  of old age.

•Bakare is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja