The woes of senior citizens with their off-springs in foreign lands!
[Dr. Shubhangi Deshmane]
Kudos to Mr Vijay Phanshikar for bringing up the serious issue of
socio-emotional aspect of lonely senior citizens in his column
“Loud Thinking”. As a doctor, I have seen many senior citizens going into the phase of loneliness and then depression after staying far away from their children who are mostly settled abroad.
The problem has worsened many folds during Covid times.
In their young days, the same parents encourage their children to study abroad, supporting them financially. Over a period of time children take up lucrative jobs and decide to settle down permanently. The excited proud parents in their heydays make frequent trips to be with them and later mostly for baby-sitting. But later, the same parents are reluctant to visit their children due to the tiring air travel and children also do not encourage their elderly parents to visit them due to unaffordable medical expenses. At such times children visit their parents for short periods.
Everyone is happy with this arrangement till the parents are physically fit. Once their health starts deteriorating, the parents start feeling the necessity of being near their children. Then it’s too late to make compromises from either side. The irony of the situation is, the same parents who looked after their elderly parents sincerely, do not have the same kind of support from children.
Unfortunately, most of the senior citizens are left to tend for themselves mostly in old age homes. 2
Western trends are replacing our rich Indian values. How do we solve the problems of migrating diaspora?
Doesn’t the present generation owe some moral responsibility towards their parents?
Are Emotions, attachments, sense of responsibilities, they taking a backseat in today’s materialistic world?
Can long distance video calls kill parents’ loneliness?
Is the Empty Nest Syndrome a permanent reality in the life of the elderly??
Should the parents be selfish enough to refuse funding or discourage their children in settling down in foreign countries?
Should the Government of India make certain laws (like China) to ensure that Indian citizens return home after a stipulated time period and serve their native country and parents?
The problem is complex but quick solutions is the need of the hour before one entire generation of senior citizens becomes mentally unstable.
The above article created lot of interest among senior friends of this blogger . Some of the views expressed are as under –
Captain Narendra Phanse
The article by Dr. Deshmane is interesting in many respects. She has succinctly analyzed the issues and in most cases, they are realistic. It is a sad fact that the old Indian values are disappearing fast. That trend started from the time urbanization commenced and movement from the rural areas to modern highly concentrated urban areas for employment gave rise to the breakdown of joint and extended family system. When families became nuclear, the complete value system changed.
We have read in so many short stories how parents living in rural and semi-rural towns and villages moved to the cities to live with their sons. The changed lifestyles, living in confined spaces with socio-economic problems confronting the families encouraged elderly parents moving back to the villages. Golden pictures were painted to show how happy they were in their old environments. Such rosy pictures did not portray the loneliness of the returning seniors, the loss of their ideals such as spending time with their grandchildren, telling them stories from the epics and folklores and other expectations. This was more pronounced in families which had sent their sons abroad and those whose sons worked in MNCs in far off cities.
I lived half my life in India and the other abroad. I did my PG training in Applied Social Sciences in London. That eventually led me to work for a long time with Indian senior citizens in a metropolitan council with large Indian population. I could closely see the family dynamics involving young couples with their aging parents and parents-in law. Like all the members of this group. I lived in a large joint family, with equally large extended family. In talking about my experience, I shall present two scenarios as far as Indian senior citizens are concerned.
a. Those living in India.
b. Foreign based senior citizens.
Each of these categories has issues specific to their environments.
a. Those living in India: I shall make this brief as every one of has been through the cycle. I shall avoid repeating what we all know. The only difference is in unique cases I have encountered.
(i) Seniors without children: There are many childless couples. Their issues are unique. One couple I knew very closely, lived as best as they could till both were able to live independently. As the lady became invalid, they moved into an old people’s home. A couple of years later, they were asked to move out to a nursing care facility. Such facilities are extremely expensive even in India. The pension earned by the couple was just about INR35000 per month, whereas the fees for a room in a nursing home was close to INR50000 for a couple. Besides that, there were other expenses as well, such as lab fees in outside facilities such as radiography, etc. Whatever the couple had saved in their lifetime was spent in that facility. The end could have been sad, but was averted by the nephews of the gentleman who provided support till their end. There was another couple, who did not have a son. One daughter was married abroad, and her circumstances prevented her from caring for her parents. The other daughter wanted them to live with her. However, their old values (that parents of a married daughter would not accept even a glass of water from a married daughter) presented a stumbling block. The daughter and her kind husband eventually persuaded them and took them to live with them to Mumbai. One can imagine how cramped accommodations are in that city. When I met this couple, the sad gentleman said two sentences: “We are just waiting to die. I am tired and must go to sleep,” and indeed went to bed. The daughter was shedding helpless tears. Both she and her husband tried their best to make them as comfortable as they could. What they could not do was to break the cultural barrier.
(ii) Seniors with children but living in old people’s homes: The situation is no different. Yes, the children visit them, not as frequently as they would like to. Some affluent children keep their parents in upmarket senior homes and nursing care facilities. The issues are the same: old values, unfulfilled expectations from the oldest son caring for the aged parents a-la-Shravan kind of devotion, taking them for pilgrimage, etc. and the resultant loneliness. If we look at even the best promotional videos of some senior facilities, we see the elders describing how happy they are with built-in temple and shrines, community hall, dining hall, good food, etc. However, their eyes betray their sadness.
b. Those living abroad: We all know what it is like. Dr. Deshmane has described it very well. One thing that stands out is, everything is good till the seniors have nursing care needs. In the United Kingdom, with universal health care system and Social Services Act and other legislation (such as Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act, NHS Car in the Community Act) most seniors are taken care of. However, the cuts in services, shortages of staff etc. there is an alarming level of senior abuse, both physical as well as emotional and neglect. In one Indian nursing care facility, a ninety-year old lady was subjected to torture, not just physical abuse. The grandchildren, suspecting this, they put a CCTV camera secretly. What they saw was horrifying. A police complaint was made and one of the care assistants was sent to jail. This happened during my two-year stay in London recently. Situation looks good in the US, however, the real test will come when the elderly need nursing care accommodation when they become unable to care for themselves.
Very important issue of present times, as many young Indians are now spread out all over the world, not only USA, Uk … only.
Even Ukraine had so many Indians .
But no govt. rule can work. It is basically a human urge to survive and prosper, that fuels migration. Read this article based on a national geographic project –
The situations become catalysts for neo trends. I know of many such lonely parents forming their own groups and making best use of their lives. No use crying over times that have passed.
There are woes of seniors living abroad with their kids too, like me !
Difficulties give cause to search new possibilities. DO read this self experience …
Each case has its own problem and solution. Can not generalize.
But one general way…
Preparedness to accept ‘ What is’ and to change one’s mindset may open up new possibilities. One has no access to them with a fixed mindset .