Taking Care of the Elderly
INTRODUCTION: REGULAR ENCOUNTERS WITH THE ELDERLY
In my routine meetings with members of the public -- whether at the Prime
Minister’s Office or in my Constituency Office, on the roads, or in the
communities -- I talk to all kinds of persons, with all sorts of problems. Some
conversations are warm, others are distressing.
I have spoken with persons who are suffering with debilitating diseases, persons
who are living with AIDS, persons who have been abandoned, persons who have been
abused – whether sexually or otherwise, persons who need help with personal
problems, persons who need jobs, persons who need material assistance, and
inevitably, persons who simply need advice.
Among the many that I see, are elderly persons. They come to me for all sorts of
reasons. Some live alone and need help to keep a roof over their heads; some
need help to pay their utility bills; some need help to meet the cost of their
medical bills; some need advice to get their NIS pensions. Others simply want to
know how to resolve problems created by public authorities. What is particularly
worrisome is the large number of elderly persons who live alone, often
Many tell me, with sadness in their eyes and their voices, that they have
children who, unfortunately, for whatever reasons, have turned their backs on
them. Some complain that they feel abandoned, left alone to fend for themselves.
Some admit that their children have jobs – in some cases well-paying jobs – but
they offer little support. Not unusually, some even apologize for their
children. They explain that their children have their own families to look
after, so they are unable to offer them much help. Sometimes, the tears flow
down their faces, uncontrollably.
I listen to the painful accounts of neglect and I ask myself this question: How
is it possible for a son or daughter to abandon a mother or father – or even a
grandmother or grandfather?
NO TRADITION OF RETIREMENT
Interestingly, many of those who approach me, seek employment -- even though
they are past the retirement age of 61 years. They want to work, they say, to
pay their bills. This encounter is usually very difficult. I explain that
because they are past retirement age, Government cannot employ them. I try to
explain that it is also difficult for the Private Sector to employ them because,
understandably, the Private Sector would wish to employ young, energetic and
Much of this points to the fact that we have not really developed a culture of
retirement. By that I mean that many of our elderly persons either did not
prepare for retirement, or if they wanted to, had no means of doing so. Indeed,
many of these individuals are not in receipt of NIS pensions because they have
never worked in their lives.
WANTED: A CHANGE OF ATTITUDE!
Frankly, we need to radically rethink our attitudes to our elderly. We must not
allow ourselves to see them as miserable old people or troublesome persons. We
must not assign them to rocking chairs or to lonely bedrooms. We must not think
that because some of them are no longer able to do things for themselves, that
they have become useless and should just be left to await the inevitable.
Each and every one of us must realise that we too, will get old. And what we
would not want for ourselves when we get to their age, we should not want for
today’s elderly persons. They too were young; they too worked hard; they too
have served; and they too, like each and every one of us, still have a life to
TAKING CARE OF THE ELDERLY
Throughout the world, Governments are passing more laws to protect and assist
the elderly because increasingly, modern families are abandoning the elderly
among them to institutional homes.
Right here in St. Lucia, we know of several established homes for the elderly.
There’s the Marian Home and the institution in Soufriere that we simply refer to
as “Malgretoute”. There are the Adelaide and St. Lucy’s Homes and, more
recently, the Cornerstone Home.
And, of course, there are other church-based initiatives such as the home for
abandoned elderly persons in Faux-a-Chaux operated by the Sisters of Charity of
Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Believe it or not -- most of the persons being taken
care of on a voluntary basis by the nuns at Faux-a-Chaux were left behind by
their relatives at Victoria Hospital, Golden Hope or Turning Point. They were
The administrators of these homes often tell me that many elderly persons are
placed in those homes and their children and relatives promptly turn their
backs. Many do not visit on a regular basis, or at all. Some do not bother to
provide any financial support to these homes to assist with maintenance of their
parents. Many simply place their relatives in these homes to await their
SALUTE HELP-AGE ST. LUCIA
Most prominent among the non-governmental organizations taking care of the
elderly is HelpAge St. Lucia, which is also known as the National Council of and
for Older Persons.
This organization is dedicated to taking care of the needs of the elderly. It
has established groups of elderly citizens called Club 60s, 24 of which exist
throughout the island. One such group is the “Mongouge Club 60” in Choiseul,
which established St. Lucia’s first adult day care centre back in November 2003.
HelpAge officers travel the length and breadth of the island seeking out the
elderly – especially the abandoned or neglected ones – identifying their needs
and seeking ways and means of assisting them. They not only give help, but they
also counsel the elderly. They also counsel younger persons to ensure that they
treat older persons with dignity and respect. They train family members to take
special care of the elderly – like how to bathe and clothe bed-ridden persons,
which is a task that cannot be easily left to strangers.
It is important that we understand that the elderly want to enjoy their
remaining years just as we enjoy our current lives. They also need recreation.
They too need fun and laughter. They may be in bed or in a wheelchair, but they
still have feelings and a passion for living.
EXTENDING A HELPING HAND
Inevitably, some among you who are listening to me will probably say: “You are
telling us that we should treat our elderly with more sensitivity, care,
compassion and understanding, but what is the Government doing to assist?”
Let us get one thing clear. We all have a responsibility to look after our
parents and our relatives. We cannot surrender that responsibility to
Governments, otherwise the family itself would cease to exist. Governments do,
however, have wider responsibility to create an environment in which families
We are extending a helping hand. To date, this Government has either built or
repaired 280 homes for elderly persons throughout St. Lucia. We have abolished
the payment of Property Tax for persons who are in receipt of NIS pensions. We
have increased the subventions to the homes that look after our elderly. Since
being in office, we have increased the amounts of Public Assistance – and we
will do it again. To be sure, more can be done and more will be done, by this
Government, as time progresses.
I want to repeat my earlier call on St. Lucians to all play our part to help and
take care of the elderly. Taking care of those who need care is not just a
favour but a duty for each and every one of us. Those who are not taking care of
the elderly need only to remember that, barring unforeseen circumstances, each
and every one of us will grow to become an older person. We too, will need help.
We too, will have to deal with the loneliness and helplessness that old age
brings. We too will have to deal with the unwanted intrusions in our privacy. We
too will suffer from memory lapses, even to the point that we cannot find our
way in familiar surroundings. We too will have to face ill health and unwanted
disease. We too will need a gentle smile, a little touch, a warm embrace. It’s
just a matter of time.
JOIN THE SENIOR GAMES
In that spirit, I would like to urge all St. Lucians to participate in the
second National Senior Games organized by HelpAge –the National Council of and
for Older Persons. These games will be held on Easter Monday, March 28, at the
National Stadium in Vieux Fort and will be attended by many elderly persons.
These games are for persons 44 and above, so many of us qualify. You are
encouraged to take your parents and grand parents along. I will be there – and I
encourage you to be there too. Let us set aside that day for our elderly.
Until next week, do take care; and may the Good Lord bless and keep you.