Caring for the unloved ones

“The disintegration of traditional family life has destroyed much of a former pattern of elderly parents being cared for at home”

Elderly people can be cantankerous, unamusing, uncompromising, smelly, demented, deceitful and generally unfit for purpose. I know because, at age 90, I admit to sharing at least one of these unfortunate attributes.

Somewhere around the age of 70, we unwillingly enter what is euphemistically called the “twilight zone”, when body and mind slow down and our behaviour becomes unpredictable. It is then that we must face the reality that we will soon, if not already, be in need of assistance to perform the daily chores of living.

Our choice (or that of our kith and kin) is limited to either staying at home with the paid help of “carers” or entering institutions such as hospices, sanatoriums, asylums and nursing/care homes.

Well, before the outbreak of the Covid epidemic, the care industry (be it state, charitable or private enterprise) was much maligned for lack of due diligence towards a disadvantaged, captive clientele.

The public sector struggled with miserly budgets to provide the minimum possible services for survival performed by a well-intentioned but under-paid and under-qualified staff. The private sector was required to achieve for its mostly corporate owners a desirable profitability by attracting a wealthier but often unhealthier class of patient through the provision of the latest medical equipment and trained nursing staff.

Television series and advertising present an unrealistic but happy image of the “young old” enjoying a comfortable retirement with good food, cultural and sporting activities and even romantic escapades. However, the recent revelations of decrepit “facilities” show the truth of an appalling system of dilapidated waiting rooms for death to which the unfortunate have been committed as being the only solution to an inevitable, cachectic problem. Keep the elderly out of sight and out of mind.

The socio-economic upheaval of the past 30 years has resulted in a sea change of attitudes by millennials to ageism. The disintegration of traditional family life has destroyed much of a former pattern of elderly parents being cared for at home.

Many children have been born out of wedlock and have dispersed to the four corners of the market economy globe. They have little motivation to provide for the sustenance of elderly forebears when their own futures are threatened by poverty and neglect.

The average cost in Portugal for nursing home accommodation now averages €3,000 per person per month and, depending on the degree of incapacity, can oscillate to thrice this figure during the terminal days. State and employer funded fixed pensions are pitifully inadequate to meet such payments. The only solution for the majority is to liquidate what little lifetime investments they may have made and to sell or mortgage the former home – much to the dismay of expectant beneficiaries.

Except for the privileged and wealthy elite, the capitalist system will never provide an equitable solution to the economic problem of financing longevity. Indeed, the epidemic of Covid-19 and its associated high rate of mortality among the over 70s has been mooted by some as proof of the need to reduce an unproductive population by the application of euthanasia and advanced eugenics.

Without a political presence or the ability to organise lobbies, there is little that elderly citizens can do to pressure a change in their dire plight. At best, one should try to remain independent as long as possible by not entering the present system of assisted dying even if this may mean physical inconvenience.

An extension of the Red Cross “Brigadas de Intervenção Rápida” (speedy home help) to deliver, by ambulance, medicines and essential medical attention could go a long way to avoid the costs and distress of confinement in concentrated groups.

Importantly, the continuing intellectual abilities of the retired should be exercised by the encouragement of professional and cultural activity; including the writing of essays such as this by …

Roberto Cavaleiro

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Roberto Cavaleiro first came to Portugal in 1982, acting as advisor to international investors. Current interests include animal welfare and writing opinion articles, especially with reference to environmental issues.

Portugal Resident