Wheelchairs and air travel

bhadras-staff-provides-special-assistance-to-passengers-at-chennai-airport-terminalI recently took my mother-in-law to Mumbai for a family wedding. While she can walk a bit, she finds standing for extended periods and walking long distances very painful, so I ordered wheelchair support for her at the time of check-in.

The Indigo airlines people (MAA-BOM) were very kind and helpful. They came and found us even before we reached the check-in counter and got her comfortably seated in a wheelchair. They then took her through security and and ensured that she reached the gate well before flight time. They then came back at the time of boarding and made sure she got on to the plane before anyone else and was seated comfortably before the rest boarded.

Similarly at the Mumbai airport, after everyone had disembarked, they brought a wheelchair through the aerobridge and remained with us till we got into a pre-paid taxi. The person manning the wheelchair even took her to a disabled toilet before we got into the cab. He remained patient, courteous and kind through out.

Our return was by Jet airways. The embarking process went smoothly with the wheelchair available to my mother-in-law from the airport entrance itself all the way to the aircraft. I was extremely happy with the service and it made my mother-in-law’s travel much less of an ordeal than it could have been without the wheelchair support provided by the two airlines.

At the Chennai airport, after the flight landed, we waited for everyone to disembark and then started to move forward towards the aerobridge when a flight attendant announced that wheelchair users should use the rear exit. We turned around and went there only to find a flight of steps down (no aero bridge). When we protested, they said please get down the steps and we will get you a wheelchair. So we helped her get down the steep stairs which she managed with a lot of difficulty. At the bottom, they said, please get into the bus and we will get you a wheelchair at the terminal. It was just another 20 meters and she was game, so we did not think too much about it. However, getting into the bus was something else! The first step of the bus is a good foot above the ground and she really found it difficult to climb in. Finally, my wife and I literally lifted her on to the bus while the ground crew stood around watching.

Not surprisingly, at the terminal end, there was no wheelchair waiting for us. We got her down from the bus and started making our way towards the baggage carousel. Just as we were almost at the carousel, the wheelchair finally arrived. As a saving grace, the attender stayed with us all the way to the pickup location a good 200 meters from the arrival hall.

When it comes to accessibility services, we are almost there, but not quite yet. The strength of a chain is that of the weakest link. Similarly, the final quality of the service depends not so much on the parts that you do well, but on the places where you drop the ball. In this case, the disembarkation process at the Chennai airport was a disaster in terms of service. Jet airways needs to take note and improve on their service.

I will be writing to them about this so they can really consistently do their job well. If you have a similar experience, please make sure you write to the concerned authorities so that they can improve upon their services. If we don’t tell them, how will they know they need to improve?

Understanding men and women in their old age

depression-in-the-elderly-290x217A recent article in the Times of India talks about how men tend to get depressed in their old age while women tend to get more adventurous.

This is something we have also noticed on our trips to old age homes and retirement communities. In all of these places, women appear happier and more participative while the men appear subdued and sombre. While the women band together and enjoy group activities, the men seem to shy away from the company of others.

There could be many reasons for this difference in behaviour, especially in an largely male dominated Indian environment.

Let’s look at why women may be happier at old age homes.

1. They have other women of the same age group to share their days with. There are a fair number of studies that show that women thrive in the company of their girl friends.

2. They don’t have to cook, at least unless they actually want to.

3. They are no longer expected to be at the beck and call of their husband / children.

4. They no longer have to take care of all the house work.

5. For the first time in their lives, they have the time to pursue things that interest them.

As for the men:

1. They feel they are no longer the centre of their families. They are no longer the bread-winner in the family and this can take some getting used to. Retirement deprives them of work, company of peers, and the self-esteem that comes from earning.

2. Without work, there is no vacation. Many men make elaborate plans for after their retirement with rest, relaxation and recuperation forming a large part of it, only to find themselves looking for work again, not for the money but to feel part of a society in which they are a contributing member. So the free time they should be enjoying no longer feels like an extended vacation, but makes them feel they are wasting time.

3. Many of the retirement homes do not allow liquor. Some of the men who had enjoyed some social drinking during their working days may be missing such activities.
If your parents are living in an old age home or retirement community, please do observe them and see if they are showing any signs of depression. Especially the men, they may not tell you themselves that they are feeling depressed. But with your care, some counselling and where required, proper treatment, you can help them live their senior years in a happy frame of mind.

Senior citizens in the news

oldmanOn Google, there is a facility by which you can set “Alerts” on specific keywords and phrases. Whenever a new article, or web page  with the specified words is added/created, Google sends you a mail with the link to the relevant page.

At Old is Gold Store, since we are interested in all matters relating to Senior Citizens, we have an alert set up for the phrase “Senior Citizen”.   Everyday we get alerts with 10 – 15 links to articles relating to senior citizens out of which 80% are from outside India and 20% are from India.

The articles from other countries are all almost always positive articles.  However, 99% of the articles from within India relate to violence and theft perpetrated on senior citizens.

Why are we not having more positive news relating to senior citizens in India?

Request our readers to share with us pleasant news relating to senior citizens please.


May be it is not as bad as it seems

notbadThe two sisters came in looking for something for their dad. From their conversation with each other, one could make out that their dad was not keeping well, was stubborn and inflexible (like some seniors who have been fiercely independent all their lives are wont to be), but still very much loved.

The sisters, one resident and the other visiting, were carrying on a banter about the dad’s shenangans with a subtext of indulgent smiles, crinkled noses, shrugs and sighs. One could see that despite the obvious love and affection they had for their dad, their nerves were frayed and their patience was wearing thin.

As they were browsing, Mr. S came in. Mr. S is 70+ and an old customer. He had not visited since his mother had passed away a few months back. He looked a little thinner and a bit more harried. I enquired politely about how life was treating him. A casual question, but it must have been the key to the flood gates, for there was such an outpouring for the next few minutes.

Apparently, he had had a mild heart attack and had undergone an angioplasty since he last met us and was just recovering. As though that was not sufficiently taxing, his father-in-law had moved in with him as he had been recently diagnosed with some malignant form of cancer. The F-i-l was apparently largely confined to bed now and needed constant looking after – the usual diaper change and feed and all the other help in taking care of his daily living – not to mention sleepless nights and visits to the doctor involving interminable waiting times. Poor Mr. S, not only did he have to take care of himself, he had an even older man to look after. No wonder he looked harried. I could not do much more than mumble some inane platitudes about keeping up the spirit and how things will work out well in the end and so on. He sighed, bought some diapers for his father-in-law and left.

The two ladies who had fallen silent in Mr. S’s presence seemed to come out of a trance. “Wow! We are in a much better state than that poor man. We have no right to complain”, they said and left the store in a much better frame of mind.

I only hope they remind themselves of this every time things get more difficult. As for Mr. S, I can only wish him good health and the strength to endure and survive this trial too.

Live-in relationships among seniors

senior_companionshipDignity foundation had a seniors companionship day last week and I was invited to moderate a debate on the concept of live-in relationships among seniors.

It was very heartening to see that Dignity was making people think about such topics generally considered taboo in our society and it was doubly delightful to find quite a few people among the seniors approaching this topic with a positive frame of mind.

The discussants (a new word I learnt recently) were Dr. Prakash, a family physician and pain and palliative care specialist and a dignity member and YWCA office bearer Ms. Sundara Gopalan on the “For” team and an Advocate Mr. Raja Narayanan and Ms. Meera Raghavendra Rao, a freelance journalist and blogger on the “Against” team.

Dr. Prakash talked about loneliness and the concomitant problems associated with loneliness  that many senior citizens are facing today and how companionship could help keep people happy and stave off illnesses, especially the mental ones.

Ms. Sundara Gopalan spoke from the heart and urged the audience and her fellow panelists to keep their hearts and minds open to possibilities.

The advocate Mr. Raja Narayanan, an experienced orator and humorist, kept the audience in splits with his incisive jokes and anecdotes. Being against the concept of live-in relationships he highlighted legal, cultural and social issues associated with concepts blindly copied from the west.

Ms. Meera similarly emphasized on the social stigma associated with living outside marriage and how this can lead to ostracization of parents and the children.

Finally, we threw the floor open to the audience and it was again heart-warming to note the open-mindedness of most of the people there.

As a moderator and judge, I felt that the “for” team was more forward thinking and coming at the issue from a need-based perspective and were able to clearly highlight the absolute need for companionship and the health benefits of relationships.

The “Against” team worried about what society might think rather than thinking of what is good for oneself.

While Spock has very famously said that “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”, I am of the firm believe that the needs of the few far outweigh the prejudices of the many. If all the senior citizens decide to be supportive of those that are open to giving love and companionship another chance, the society will automatically change its attitude(after all, what is society but us?).

Here’s to many more such thought provoking discussions. My sincere thanks to Ms. Aruna Damodharan and Dignity foundation for a wonderful evening and wish them the very best.

Please send in your views.  You can leave comments to this post or send an email to info@oldisgoldstore.com

Importance of going out

Second in our series titled “The Elephant in the Room” highlighting common issues we tend to ignore.

senior_day_outMany old people, especially those with even minor balance issues, incontinence issues or other mobility issues, gradually lose their confidence and stop going out of the house altogether.

Given the state of the roads and traffic, we also, as children and care givers are happy with this trend because it saves us from a lot of anxiety and worry. Before too long, the only activity that our elderly are involved in is watching television.

This is a very dangerous trend. Without regular meeting with friends and other sensory imputs (beyond television, which is a very passive form of activity), the brain tends to deteriorate faster, possibly speeding up the process towards some form of dementia.

In addition, being cooped up in the house can lead to reduced exercise, faster degeneration of muscle tissue and increased irritability and depression.

As children and care givers of elders, however much easier it is to let them stay at home, it is our duty to ensure that they go out on a regular basis.

You can take them to the beach, arrange a group visit to a nice place or temple, get them to visit relatives, or even coax them to a walk in the neighbourhood park.

Do not let your insecurities compound theirs. Being imprisoned within four walls is no life for anybody, least of all our loved ones.

Take them out today!

Watch this space for more news in this area.

The Elephant In The Room – your parents need you.

elephant_in_the_roomThis is the first in a series of short articles titled “The elephant in the room” (TEITR), which will highlight many facts and realities about the life of senior citizens in India that most of us tend to ignore/avoid.

This one is about your parents needing you.

If you are in your mid-forties and have parent(s) alive, sooner or later you are going to have to look after them, just they way they looked after you when you were a baby – literally.

This means that, one day, they may become incapable of looking after themselves and you will have to feed them, bathe them, clean them and keep them entertained and in good spirits and health.

With age and infirmity, some of the elderly get cranky and irritable. Age related illnesses such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons can add to the complications. You may have to keep a close watch on them, lest the wander away. You will need to identify a good Geriatrician. You will have to set aside time to take them to their Doctor on a regular basis and ensure they are taking all their medication on time and the vaccinations required (there are new vaccines in the market specially targeting older people including ones for pneumonia, typhoid, etc. Ask the Doctor). Be prepared for midnight emergency trips to the hospital.

Learn to identify their needs and wants. Do not expect them to tell you – sometimes, they may not know or may not wish to tell you. Relearn how to put on a diaper. If you have forgotten how to show your love and affection, relearn how to hug and kiss.

Old people are like babies. For the lucky among us, our parents will live long. Towards the end, they will need all the support, love and affection you can give. And only you can give it.

You don’t have to think about that and worry about it now. Just be prepared for when the time comes.

New York times looks at family care giving from an NRI Perspective

New York times blog regularly covers issues relating to senior citizens in USA.  Many of the issues addressed are relevant to India as well.  Their latest entry talks about how NRIs cope with long-distance caring situations where the parent(s) live in India and need to be monitored regularly.

19noa-pande-blog480How many people who come to America for an education or a job and stay eventually become transnational caregivers — people who care for relatives or friends across national boundaries? No one really knows. But there’s certainly a long tradition of cross-border family interactions in this nation of immigrants.

Both historically and today, financial support from people who come to the United States flows to relatives across oceans, and south to Mexico and Central and Latin America. Some immigrants spend parts of the year here and in their countries of origin, looking after young children or older parents left behind.

 But the dynamics of these arrangements are different now because of two major trends. Across the world, people are living longer: more immigrants have aging relatives in distant lands in their 70s, 80s or 90s, with all the related medical and social issues.

Meanwhile, technology has transformed how people can communicate over long distances and altered expectations of what people can do for far-flung relatives. Whereas letters once took weeks to cross an ocean and phone service was scarce in Africa, Asia and rural areas of other continents, today video chats occur in real-time and almost everyone has cellphones.

Makes for real interesting reading.  To read more, go here.