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The Pathos of Gerontology
By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Life goes through three distinct stages—childhood, youth and old age. Of these three stages childhood is the sweetest, youth is the warmest and old age is the saddest, since it implies senility. Childhood and youth are big with hope and promises. But old age implies the end of the road. Actually it signifies the end of our journey on earth. There is nothing for the old age except despair and tragedy of unfulfilled dreams—a kind of vacuum looms ahead of them. Mentally and physically they are dilapidated relics of the past. Yet old age is inevitable for a person having a normal span of life. An active, energetic, strong-bodied person turns into a distressing dodderer when he becomes old and loses all his vitality. It is very sad for the person concerned. None can realize the anguish of the old people except themselves. I can understand their sadness, since I myself belong to that category.
But we must be reasoble and we have to accept the wise saying that what cannot be avoided must be endured. Yet it is not so easy to accept old age with philosophic resigtion. That is why old age is dreaded by most of the people, lest they become a burden to their family and friends. They live in a world of their own—lonely and unwanted—with only the thoughts of the past to give them company. They were once terrors in their own homes—yet now they have been elbowed out by the younger generation. Their views are considered as stupid and outdated by the young people, who do not have half their knowledge or experience.
Even their own children may not be happy to be saddled with their old parents, who disrupt their life style. For them the parents are a kind of liability—an uvoidable nuisance. In their time they struggled and sacrificed everything throughout life to give comfort, education and a good life to their children. But once they grow old, the children never care for them. turally they feel neglected, unwanted and isolated. Days stretch out before them like a desert and life becomes an unending stream of boredom. There is no joy, no hope nor any laughter in their world. They only know tears and despair. Age makes them decrepit and they become a pathetic burden to their own children.
There may be several factors, which are responsible for the unfortute and pathetic condition of the senior citizens. It can be clearly noticed that over the last few years various factors have been altering our social fabric, and the time-honoured attitudes of respect towards elderly people are slowly and steadily changing. The old people are regarded as redundant and irrelevant. One of the factors of this attitude may be the breaking up of the joint families. Then of course so many people from villages have migrated to towns and cities, where it may not be feasible to accommodate an extra person. And due to inflation people are facing terrible economic hardship, due to which, it is getting nearly impossible to feed an extra mouth. It can also be noticed that individualism characterizes modern generation. So all these factors—urbanization, paucity of space, inflation and individualism may have combined to displace the old people from their pedestral.
The old people have realized to their dismay that they are not really wanted by anybody. Their adult children just tolerate them with utmost reluctance—some even throw them out like waste products. They are like an old piece of damaged furniture which does not fit with the décor of the room. There was a time when old age was synonymous with wisdom and values. The children could never doubt the superior wisdom of the parents, even if they did not have any formal education or university degrees. Indian societies have traditiolly respected the elderly people. Indians considered it to be a great virtue to look after the elderly parents. Nothing in the household was done without the prior consent of the parents. But now they are rarely consulted, as the younger generation do not need their advice or approval.
Once everything in the household was done according to their wish. Their slightest wish was considered as divine command by their children. They were feared and respected by the young members of the family. But in their old age they find that the children do not care for them. They do not even bother to ask for their advice on any important matter. They just tolerate their parents as an uvoidable nuisance—and the parents know it.
The old people are supposed to be demanding and cantankerous. Perhaps the accusation has some element of truth in it. But one has to consider the other side of the picture. After ruling over the household for half a century or more, it is only tural that the parents cannot realise that their children have become adults with ideas of their own. They find it hard to accept the fact that their guidance is no longer needed nor are they welcome. As a result they become a constant irritant to their respective families.
The problems of the senior citizens are generally rooted in physical debility, loneliness and depression. Their physical resources vary according to their life style, genetic build and destiny. For the old people too some entertainment is necessary. Hence some movies, suited to their age and temperament, may be shown in some cinema houses at subsidized rates in the morning hours. Some of the senior citizens would surely enjoy such presentations.
The normal and physically strong among them may remain fit for some ten years or more after 60 years, even if they suffer from hypertension or diabetes or cardiac problems or spondalysis, lumbago or the most frightful cancer. Medical colleges and hospitals certainly need a specialized branch to cope with gerontology.
I have heard that there is an existing rule that there should be separate ques for the old people in the offices and banks and also that there are reserved seats for them in the buses. But I think that such facilities are an exception rather than a rule.
It is very important to ensure that the senior citizens are engaged in some work, according to the condition of their physical ability. In most cases depression sets in after retirement from service. It is terrible for a healthy, strong, fit and mentally alert person to accept complacently the harsh truth that his days in the office, in which he worked so diligently for years and years, are over. He feels old and worn-out, though in actual fact he can still work for long. Mental depression adversely affects his physical vitality and he becomes devoid of all energy. Hence it is imperative to engage him in some work, which would convince him that he still has the capacity to work on a new line.
The welfare of the senior citizens should be a tiol concern and responsibility. It needs to be accorded high priority, because they have given the prime of their lives for the good of society and the tion. They should not be considered as useless burden to the civil services and public utilities. Treated with sympathy and compassion, they can still be an asset to the society and tion at large. The tion would gain immensely, it serious consideration is extended for the welfare of the old.
Perhaps the most important thing is to instill some confidence into them—to make them realize that they are not burnt ends of humanity—that in spite of old age they can still do some useful work and that they are still needed by the family and society. Every old person needs love, understanding and care. They should be made to realize that their time is not over. In fact, given the right direction, they can lead a very happy and useful life to the end, which is inevitable. Some serious thought should be spared and efforts made to brighten the lives of the old people in their twilight days. Surely it is not too much to expect.