INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR OLDER PEOPLE
It is International Older People’s Day, and I wanted to highlight a few of the difficulties that older people and their families must contend with. This past year has seen the death of several older members of my family. This has been especially hard for our far-flung family, who have been scattered over the face of the globe. I know we are not the only family who has had to deal with this, as thousands of other immigrants will testify.
BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY
Modern technology has been excellent in enabling families to remain connected, especially in times of trial. I have attended funeral services in South Africa, United Kingdom, and New Zealand while still here in the USA. Although this was such a boon, I still could not visit, hug, touch or say my own farewells. Distance, time, cost, and COVID protocols prevented that.
ELDER INCAPACITY DISADVANTAGES
Yet there was also something else, my family member’s lack of capacity through dementia to engage with technology or even know who I was. Many older persons are frail and incapacitated in different ways. I was not able to attend my own mother’s funeral a few years back. I had not been able to have a meaningful conversation with her for several years due to her lack of capacity to see, hear, or engage with even a phone call. When I said goodbye as I left the country, I knew it would be the last time I saw her and made my farewell as meaningful as possible.
INHUMANE IMMIGRATION POLICIES
This is the price our African Diaspora generation had had to pay when we were scattered after politics destroyed our home country and we no longer felt safe or could survive there. It is also the story I have heard from many other immigrants from other countries who have had to flee. They have had to leave the elderly behind, as their new countries make it nigh on impossible to bring an older person with them. They then have to survive in their new country and send funds back home to care for their elderly. Good care that can be bought to provide for our elderly cannot replace the loving family that left them behind. These are some of the tough choices that must be made for survival in a disrupted world.
ACCESSIBILITY AND SAFETY IN THE DIGITIZED WORLD
How great if technology was affordable and easy to use and sufficient safety measures put in place to help the elderly remain connected to their families, even if they are elsewhere, but this just does not help at all when a person’s capacity has diminished. Families have to work so hard and such long hours to take care of themselves, there is often little time or energy left over to contact and chat with their elderly, leaving the void that scammers are aware of. Older people are also targets of scammers, knowing their vulnerability and loneliness. Older people can still contribute to the economy if they can continue working at a pace more suited to their capacity. Here is where the digital world can make a positive difference if older people can learn to thrive with their digital skills, communicate, and access help when required.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND IMMIGRATION POLICIES
What is the solution? Not more technology, but better immigration policies that allow families to stay together. Affordable housing with sufficient space for three generations to live together. Housing for life, built with adaptions that can assist in keeping both the elderly and the children safe during the parents’ workday. The cost of housing is so high that both people must work, even second jobs, leaving very little time for taking care of their elderly, which should have been a priority. Policies that are detrimental to family life, insufficient vacation time off, low wages. Lack of recognition for educational and professional status received in another country, expensive healthcare, just to name a few.
CAN TECHNOLOGY PROVIDE THE BASIC HUMAN NEEDS?
Can technology provide the basic needs of all people? Will society thrive, and the elderly have their needs met by technology? Their primary need for care, safety, and security will be met by belonging to their families and neighborhoods. Technology can assist in that but not replace the personal touch and care that is needed to thrive. Technology does not have a value system; it is merely a tool. Until we value people, provide the care, they require and keep family units together by allowing the elderly to emigrate with their children. No technology will replace the family and neighborhood system of ‘loving your neighbor as yourself.’ For society and families to thrive, adequate and affordable housing with a balanced work/lifestyle and connected community is required.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:2) To see what real community and specialized care for the elderly can look like visit Pilgrim Friend Society #UNIDOP2021