Why do elderly parents become a burden for children?

"I spent my lockdown at home with my entire family, and it was not a great experience." "Do you relate?"
The lockdown has not been a pleasant experience for everyone. Especially the elderly.
The lockdown has not been a pleasant experience for everyone. Especially the elderly.The Bridge Chronicle

Through out the lockdown last year, we have heard of stories of how families came together, and reconected. But for a lot of people, this was not the most happiest expereince. A lot of people around the world do not share a great connection with their family memebers and have always tried to maintain distance. But the lockdown forced them all together.

The reasons could be many: difference of opinion, lifestyle, personality issues, you name it. But the lockdown has been a stressful experience for a lot of people. But the stories never came out.

We have also often come across films where children ill-treat parents when they are older. Parent's who give birth to these children, and who lose their prime years in caring for these children, soon become unfit in the children's life.

Take Amitabh Bachhan and Hema Malini starrer Baghban for example. The well-off parents are important to the children until they are self-sustained and wealthy. But upon retiring, they soon become irrelevant to their children's lives. Their children start seeing them as an embarrassment, and a burden because now it's their turn to care for the parents.

This feeling was recent backed by data collected in a survey titled the “Longitudinal Survey of India" (LASI). According to the findings of the survey, one in 20 Indians over the age of 60 faces abuse. Surprisingly, according to the survey children, children-in-law, and grandchildren are primary abusers and also the main caregivers.

The national study encompassed 72,250 adults over the age of 45 across all Indian states and union territories. Considerably interesting, the survey was conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) — an autonomous organization of India’s health ministry.

Funnily, India, as a country, is a promotor of the joint-family culture. It is also one of the most prevalent forms of family in India, and nuclear families (consisting of only husband, wife and children) were relevantly new until some years ago. Rather, in India, it is considered to be a matter of prestige if a family and all its generations live together under the same roof. Families also promote marrying in the same caste and religion because they believe, that children of the same "breed" grow up with the same beliefs. And yet, the authors of the study noted that “elder abuse or ill-treatment is often perpetrated by those who are supposed to take care of the elderly.

Why do we look at our parents negatively?

It might not always be a consistent feeling but this question becomes important to answer as we live through the pandemic. Most people in the last year have moved back to their hometowns for various reasons. A huge part of this population consists of youth and working professionals, who lived away from home for work. Now according to the survey, in India, 12.8 per cent of elderly age 60 and above constitute the household population. According to the same survey, they are also one of the most dependant population in the country.

The problem arises when we look at the statistics of the perpetrators from the study.

LASI report
LASI report The bridge Chronicle

So according to the study, the children or grandchildren are the ones that mostly ill-treat the elders in the house. Verbal or emotional abuse, along with neglect was the most common form of abuses reported. Additionally, economic exploitation and physical ill-treatment were the other forms of abuses reported by elderly people.Though this study was based on old data, a study conducted in June 2020, by the NGO Agewell Foundation 71 per cent of India’s elderly reported an increase in maltreatment during the first Covid-19 induced lockdown.

The Bridge Chronicle tries to find out the reason behind the same. We spoke to Dr Rahul Khemani, a practising psychiatrist about the issue.

"It is not a very clear case of who is right and who is wrong.

Most of these cases have certain history to them that need to be taken into consideration. Common reasons include the parents were abusive, alcoholic and so on, putting lives at potential risk. Other narrative includes parents not being good enough, toxic relationship with parents, or having different values. We also see money or finances as being the cause for such estrangement," says doctor Khemani.

"If you want to play the blame game, there won't be a resolution. Rather it should be considered if reconciliation is a possibility," adds the doctor.

Talking about the reporting, he says, "Elder abuse is still under-reported in India. The most common form of it is abandonment and financial exploitation. The lockdown saw a growth in number of cases reported. A lot of them endured disrespect and verbal abuse, silent treatment, their daily needs being ignored, denial of medical support, and physical and emotional violence."

"While families need to be sensitised and create awareness, it is equally important to educate the elderly about their rights, legal provisions, support systems outside of families, and availability of resources such as helpline numbers," adds the doctor.

What other reports suggest?

According to a report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), one in six people over the age of 60 face abuse in community settings across the globe. The report suggets that apart from the risk of seemingly minor injusris, this form of ill-treatment also has a risk of psychological consequences, like depression and anxiety. Further, the research by WHO also cites that victims of elder abuse are twice as likely as their peers to die prematurely.

“Their children and family members too need to be sensitized about needs and rights of their elderly family members…. At the same time, elderly themselves need to be educated about facilities, support systems, legal provisions and non-formal support network, accessible and available to them,” Himanshu Rath, chairman of Agewell Foundation, told LiveMint in June.

Neglect is one of the most common forms of abuse
Neglect is one of the most common forms of abuseThe Bridge Chronicle

Why don't we know about it?

The LASI report suggets that the reason for not reporting these incidents is because they fear losing the support. Which is fair if you think about it. The elderly have nowhere to go. It is also because it is one of the most ignored topic as it falls under the guise of culture and traditions of the country.

People in India have little to almost no tolerace for refuting what the traditions suggest. Also, elderly fall under the same category as underage children who have no scope for voicing their plight as they are often shunned by the middle age-groups of 25 - 40 year old. Children and the elderly are often the target of the defense mechanism called displacement, where in the anger or frustration caused by something else is displaced on to someone submissive to you.

What can we do about it?

First of all, it is important to realise that age is just a number. The young today, will become the elederly of tomorrow; we all need to remember that. No one deserves to be treated badly. According to WHO estimates, considering the number of people optining not to have a child, the number of elderly in the world will rise global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 900 million in 2015 to about 2 billion in 2050. So misplacing angers on someone submissive, is not the right way to deal with issues.

  1. Communication is key: When communicating with the elderly, it is important to remember that they have aged with certain thoughts and ideas. These may not always match with your "progressive" ideas. You may also realise that some of their wisdom might be useful to you.

  2. Listen to understand: Ask them about things that bother them, and understand where their problems stem from. Try finidng things to do together, and make time for your parents. You are here because of them.

  3. Involve them in your life: As children grow older, they are often so caught up with their live, that parent's feel disconected. But just talking to them about your day, might make a huge difference to them. Make time for that.

  4. You might be toxic: Displacing emotions on someone else might not be most positive trait in you. Especially on to someone much younger or older, just because they won't say much is actually toxic. It is important to learn to deal with emotions rather than throw tantrums.

  5. Everyone has the right to opinion: Opinion difference in adults is natural. But as youngsters we have greater patience than older people. Employ that patience in making them understand your perspective, and understand theirs too. Find a middle ground.

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