In the last issue of Samhita, I had highlighted that ‘age is in the mind’ and senior citizens are as productive, if not more, as younger population is. This time I turn my attention to another burning topic concerning the elderly. A rather grim and growing one that is still not accepted easily by society. Of course to create awareness there is a specific day and month earmarked for this…..which day is it ? I can’t remember for sure. Here lies the clue ?
My friend’s father who was aged about 70 years left home one fine morning, like any other day to buy milk. He didn’t return almost the whole day, until the worried family members informed the police and launched a search. Finally at about 7pm, somebody brought him home from another part of the city. The poor man had forgotten his way back home and was searching all around ! He was hungry, angry and at a loss for words, unable to explain what went over him. Terrifying and pathetic !!
An aunt of mine was a perfectionist – well dressed, obsessed with cleanliness and discipline. I dread the early days of my marriage when she would size me up and admonish for not wearing a silk saree on a festival or forgetting to match with some jewellery that she had gifted. She would remember what exactly I had worn in my last visit and comment that I am back in the same old green or black ! Amazing memory and hawk-like eyes I would think. Of course she welcomed me with delicious home made goodies and wished me well always. Years rolled by. It was sad to see this once ‘well-lived’ aunt deteriorate drastically – incoherent talking, sudden laughter or tears for no reason, ill-timed comments, violent mood swings and inappropriate burst into clapping and singing like a child. Hats off to her dear old hubby and an affectionate caregiver who helped her with her daily chores right from bathing, wearing clothes to plaiting her hair and feeding her. Her family gave her a life of dignity and care. Well, despite her unpredictable behaviour and heavy memory loss she would size me up as before and pick out if I had my matching accessories or not – the woman in her was always alive ?
Kripa’s mother (name changed) was always worried that her daughter wasn’t getting a suitable groom to be married. But on the day of the wedding, I was saddened to see that the lady sat expressionless, like a stone during the rituals. She had forgotten to cry or laugh and was bereft of emotions. Numbed not because her daughter was being married off but because she couldn’t just express herself. Later I learnt from Kripa that she had suddenly developed strange kinds of fear and refused to stay at home alone. A career banker, her condition became so deplorable like my aunt’s, that she had to be taken to a Dementia day-care centre for a few hours in a day and kept engaged with some activities. It took months for the family to realise that her condition needed medical help and not just counselling.
The poster said “Missing……Godhi Banna, Sadharana Maikattu” (Wheat complexion, Moderate build) showing the troubled face of an elderly gentleman sitting on the footpath with anxiety and confusion writ large on his face. Caught my attention….friends, by now those who have watched this acclaimed Kannada movie starring the well-known actor Anantnag, released in 2017 will know what burning topic I am referring to. Yes, it is the degenerative disease called “Alzheimer’s” (named after a German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer who identified the first case in a German woman in 1901) where brain cells start dying slowly, affecting the memory, thought, judgement, language and communication – all of which seriously impairs normal activities and daily life. Yes, my friend’s father, my aunt, Kripa’s mother – all were victims of Alzheimer’s.
21st September is earmarked as “Alzheimer’s Day” with this year’s theme being “Let’s talk about Dementia” to create awareness about this stigmatised illness that is wrongly passed off as senility, due to natural ageing. Truth is, it is a progressive disease affecting the mental function with no cure but only specific treatment which slows down the symptoms. Dementia is an overall term used to describe symptoms that impact memory, performance of daily activities, and communication abilities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Statistics are startling as per some studies….Alzheimer’s affects millions of aged people around the world with 1 in every 16 households having an Alzheimer’s patient. With life expectancy going up to 85 years, it is estimated that 9% aged population in 2015 will increase to 20% in 2050. The number of Alzheimer’s patients is only going to go up. If not detected in time and treated medically, this carries both a financial as well as emotional cost to the society affecting patients, caregivers, family resulting in conflict in family, guilt feeling, resentment, caretaker’s fatigue etc.
With such a large problem looming, there is a need not only for medical consultation and day-care centres but also large specialised dementia hospitals that offer care, treatment, world class facilities, trained personnel, memory clinics and secured environment which many a times one cannot provide at home. All this is available at NIKISA Dementia Village and Alzheimer’s Hospital, Yelahanka, Bangalore (www.dementiavillagebangalore.com), which is Asia’s first Dementia Village, run by one of my close family members. Come, “let us not forget the hands that raised us. Let us give the Alzheimer’s patients a life of dignity with care, affection & medication !!”
A few weeks ago, World Senior Citizens Day was observed. While the intent is to create awareness about issues and problems related to old age, it is also a day to recall their contribution to the society during their productive years. Does this mean older adults do not contribute as they start aging ? This is a myth when you watch the lives of so many sung and unsung senior citizens around you. I feel age is in the mind. As long as you keep yourself fit and keep learning, you never age. Learning, unlearning, picking up a new skill, living in the present, sharing, giving, adapting – all these attributes help us stay young.
At 75, my good friend, Uma Pai who is a breast cancer survivor, runner, woman realtor (for more than 40 years) loves travelling and helping people. But for the pandemic, she would have been vacationing across the globe with her no-so-young friends from the Silver Surfers Club. Last year I enjoyed a hilarious play put up by this club which has only senior citizens as its members. She has taken to a smart phone as fish to water. Her messages are always young and chirpy with the choicest of emojis to reflect the mood. Forever willing to help others, she spreads warmth around her. Never regrets. Never complains.
At 90, a woman joined a Toastmasters club in the US to learn to speak before an audience. She completed the first set of 10 speech projects and passed away in her late nineties, wrote her proud son about his enthusiastic mother. At 91, Agnes Kasparkova, a Czech woman has turned her village, Louka into an art centre. I am sure most of you have seen this widely circulated whatsapp forward of an elderly woman standing and bending at all angles to paint her village walls with beautiful floral designs. She picked up the skill post retirement. Is there an age to learn ?
At 94, my father spends atleast 10 hours a day performing his japa, meditation and reading thanks to a disciplined life style that he has led all along. He is such a stickler to time that he literally lives by the clock, with a simple ‘timepiece’ (as he calls it) by his side throughout the day.
At 95, my husband’s uncle Y N Rama Rao wrote a research paper on nuclear geology, his favourite subject. I have written many times about him in the past, but his zest for life, curiosity for knowledge and love for people never fail to inspire me.
At 108, if the world’s oldest marathon runner, UK veteran Fauja Singh keeps going, Prof. G Venkatasubbaiah just turned 107 a couple of weeks back in Bangalore. A Padmashri awardee, he is a writer, speaker, educationist and doyen of Kannada literature. Still alert and active, I was surprised to see this grand old linguist speak so clearly in a video recently. 3 years back I saw him enjoying a traditional banana-leaf meal at a social gathering I went to. If not the love for what they do, what else can keep a person going after hitting a century ?
The list of senior citizens who are living or have lived a full life is long. Each one of you can add more to it but what is important is the takeaways that we can get from their lives. That is something no academic course can teach us. Well, how can I conclude without paying homage to Bharat Ratna, Sir M Vishweshwaraya who not only designed the KRS dam in Mysore but was also the chief designer of the flood protection system for Hyderabad, a saviour of sorts for the city ? A visionary, a disciplinarian, an economist, a statesman, a nation builder, I still remember reading his biography as a child and my mother sharing interesting stories about his struggle as he pursued education sitting under a street lamp. 15th September is celebrated as ‘Engineers’ Day’ in the memory of this great son of India who lived for 101 years.
These seniors of our society have “not only added years to life but also life to years” !
PC: Antonin Vrba