Senior citizens at a consultation meeting to formulate a national policy this week spoke their minds out. What came out was the hypocrisy knowing that realities are dictating priorities of which caring for the old is forced to the background. That the Bhutanese culture and the respect and love for the old and the aged was exposed as many senior citizens – our parents and grandparents –  made it clear that there is neglect, forced by circumstances, if not deliberately.

Elderly citizens want old-age homes, in other words, care. This, they feel, could take care of them when their children and grandchildren are “busy” pursuing their careers and have no time to attend to the old and the vulnerable. It is not in our culture to send our parents or grandparents to an age-old care centre. The concept of sending away parents to a “shelter,” as it is known, means we are irresponsible or failing as children.

Responsibility, when it comes to taking care of the old, is different. Locking them inside flats or apartments, or making them babysit five days a week, is not caring. Many long to go back to their village, abandoned it may be, even if they have to take care of themselves.

Many senior citizens find joy and happiness at the Memorial Choeten in Thimphu, where they throng for a few hours. Times have changed, and, so have priorities. As we chase our dreams as civil servants, business people or corporate employees, we unconsciously neglect our parents and grandparents.  We cannot get up at 6 am to ensure a diabetic mother takes her pill. The rest of the day, he or she is alone. When the ballpen sketch of the medicine time disappears from the plastic medicine pouch, they are lost and abuse the prescribed medicine, unknowingly.

Old-age care homes or centres usually are equipped with all the facilities that are missing when forced to stay with office-going children or grandchildren. They may not get the “love”, but they could have the needed attention and care when at old age centres. What is stopping us is the social pressure. Sending away a parent to even a professional care centre could be construed as not being responsible or a failure as sons and daughters. In today’s context where elderlies are locked inside apartments for about nine hours, it is a disgrace. Elderlies need not be forced to seek shelters in the care centres, if we have one. If their well-being can be looked after, if centres can provide better services, and if the elderlies are happy, why not fulfil the wishes of those in their twilight years.

There is a difference going by what the representatives of senior citizens said at the consultative meeting. They may not represent all senior citizens, but they feel that old age homes could be a solution. The tradition of respecting our elders has changed. The need for old-age homes has become a necessity. Changing the mindset will be easier if there is  strong backing from the government. All efforts, despite the so-called cultural or societal pressure, should result in improving the lives of the senior citizens. 

The wish is simple. Many want to spend their last few days in their village among the loved ones who have time. Dying alone in an urban flat and directly taken to the crematorium for the lack of space and time is what many senior citizens fear. Listening to their needs is granting their last wishes.