Avia Collinder, Sunday Gleaner Writer
In this December 2005 photo, the Shipping Association of Jamaica (SAJ) staff choir sings 'Songs of Christmas' for the senior citizens of Greenwich Town during the SAJ's annual treat for golden agers. Psychologists say the elderly frequently experience loneliness. - File
Many of the nation's elderly, placed in the care of nursing homes, are living very lonely lives. In many cases their relatives have completely passed on the burden of care to others. The monthly fees are paid, but there are no visits, letters, cards or phone calls. In fact, the less money the home costs, the less the care and interest shown by relatives.
It is a curious fact, but Denise Eldemire-Shearer, an executive of the National Council for the Aged, says for "those who are put in lower income homes, there are all kinds of problems in family relations. Some place them there out of feeling obligated and duty bound, but there are no bonds, there were none then and none now." Their relatives do not go to look for them.
Denise Simmonds (name changed), who helps to run a home owned by her church in Vineyard Town, notes that in general the relatives hardly ever come to visit - not even during the holidays.
"At Christmas we invite their relatives for dinner. Sometimes they come, sometimes they make excuses. It's a sad story," she relates.
Simmonds, aged 70, spends several days each week visiting the home which was also the last home of her mother-in-law whom she says was completely, neglected by her living blood relatives.
"I fed her and did things for her, going to visit her every day. Her living blood relative was a man who owned property (farm) who neglected her completely, never gave her even a bunch of bananas. I was the one who looked after her."
Counselling psychologist Joan Rhule, who specialises in the care of the aged, says the emotional abandonment of the old "is nothing rare." According to Rhule, her church is forced to care for several members whose families have left them homeless and alone.
"One woman had a very good relationship with her children, but they do not see her as their responsibility anymore now that she's old. The church gives her what she needs. The son in America sends money now and again, but the sense of security, sense of belonging, is not there.
According to Eldemire-Shearer, loneliest of all are those whose children are abroad. And, for the relatives abroad, asking someone to look in and care for their lonely relatives is often a risk.
At the Rhodes Peaceful Moments Home, a supervisor, who did not wish to be named, said that often these 'caregiving' relatives think that the money is too good to spend on an old man or woman and, thus, spend it instead of paying over the fees to the home.
"The people abroad send the money to them but they use it and they come to you and make all kind of excuse. They feel the money is too good to pay for the old people. Some of them less care them. They would not offer them an icy mint," relates the supervisor.
But, at upscale homes in Kingston where care of the elderly demands top dollars, the men and women in residence lead happier lives as they see their relatives more often, sometimes as frequently as every other day.
Nurse Marcia James of Morningside Retirement Resort in Kingston says clients who are "able-bodied and can help themselves often go out with relatives. The ones who live here (in Jamaica) come and visit every week. Those who live abroad come for birthdays, Christmas and other special occasions."
At the Pines of St Joseph's in Vineyard Town, nurse Marjorie Cunningham, while expressing the opinion that relatives ought to come every day, says the residents do well as their relatives pay them regular visits.
"They read to them and carry them out in the recreation area, sit with them and talk with them. Some take them out for rides," she discloses.
Terrified of old age
At the Golden Age Home in Kingston, nurse Jameson-Gray says that some relatives do come to see the inmates while others just do not.
According to Rhule, children and other relatives who avoid visits to the homes might do so because they are terrified of old age. They could also be seeing the old as a liability they don't what to struggle with every day.
She states: "There is also the stereotypical view in society that once you old you done, so just stay there until time come. Some of the old also have forms of dementia which is an embarrassment to their children. They may hate to see loved ones deteriorating biologically. They do and say things which embarrass them, status-wise. So they just pay the money and stay away."
It is the psychologist's opinion that old people suffer when they are left alone.
"Old people need love and a sense of security, they need love, they need people to understand them. They need to know they have a place in society. Taking care also means respect. They will age with a sense of purpose knowing that someone cares," she states.
At the Mona Care, Geriatric and Convalescent Home, Dr Andrew Green notes that those who suffer most are those with relatives abroad. Family contact, he states, will help those with depression which is a significant issue in the older population.
States Dr Green: "They may have an illness and be worried about it, or they may be simply lonely. When they get very ill they virtually give up. If relatives keep in touch once a week it helps. Even a phone call would make a difference just to show there is interest and care. Sit and talk for a while and have some interaction."