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Dr Harshbir Rana answers your queries on personal and social issues related to ageing, elder care and intergenerational relationships

 

Q. I am a 59 year-old woman living in an apartment in Mumbai. Since my father passed away two years ago, my mother has been living alone in a flat nearby. She is 83 and rarely ventures out. As I am her only child, I am her caretaker; my husband and I make it a point to visit her every day without fail. However, these days, she has become too inquisitive—she wants to know everything that is happening in our lives and has an opinion on everything. I find this too intrusive. If I refuse to answer her, she gets upset. For this reason, many a time I just don’t feel like calling on her. But then I feel guilty. If I do visit her, I come back irritated and frustrated. How do I deal with this?

 
A. Living alone is not easy and it is very clear that your mother is very lonely. For most women, their family is their life. In your mother’s case, your father and you would be the most important people in her life. With your father’s passing, you have become the focus of her life. Her interest in all your affairs is her way of showing her concern and love for you. Also, please understand that she has no other interests, as she rarely leaves the house. That said, it is very easy to understand your irritation towards her constant questioning.

The upside of this situation is the love you and your mother share. Often, there is little or no love left between parents and children, which is clearly not the case here.
In your case, the problem becomes easier to deal with if you understand your mother’s perspective—she is not interfering but cares for you. You are her only source of interest and you need to accept that. Try a few of the following recommendations to rearrange her life in such a way that her loneliness is reduced:

  • Instead of just visiting her every day, fix a day and take her out—maybe for lunch or tea, to any restaurant or club. A regular outing will be a welcome change for both of you.
  • Social games such as bridge, carom, chess, rummy or solitaire can help reduce the loneliness.
  • Try and arrange a place where your mother can meet people—a seniors’ association, a park or the sea face.
  • Sometimes, going to a religious place on a weekly or daily basis also breaks the monotony.
  • Hobbies such as embroidery, sketching, painting, reading and singing can be encouraged.

During your visits, try and divert the conversation to treasured moments of your mother’s life, such as childhood memories, early married years, places she visited with her loved ones, etc. This way, the time you spend together will become something you look forward to.

Q. Last week, I was shocked to see one of my junior school teachers begging for alms at a signal in Lajpat Nagar in New Delhi. Looking at me, she was both happy and embarrassed. She is 78 now with no family of her own, no income or savings; she lives with her nephew who has been threatening to throw her out of his house very soon. My heart goes out to her but I am not sure how I can help her. Can you guide me?

 
A. I can empathise with you; it is indeed shocking to see people we have known, loved, respected in such a terrible state. First, I would encourage you to form a group of your school friends who knew this teacher. This ‘core group’, working with energy and purpose, would be able to do a number of things for your teacher:

  • You can get your teacher financial assistance under the Delhi Government’s Scheme of Old Age Assistance, which would be ₹ 2,500 per month, remitted quarterly. For this, she will need a proof of residence (she should have lived in Delhi for over five years), proof of age and a bank account.
  • Try an intervention with her nephew to gauge if their relationship can be mended. This would certainly improve her condition.
  • If she is on the verge of losing the roof over her head, you can try to get her into one of the following old-age homes for women:
  1. St Mary’s Home for Aged Women, Rajpur Road
  2. Arya Mahila Ashram, Rajinder Nagar

Also check out these homes below, which are free:

  1. Nirmal Hriday, Majnu ka Tila
  2. Gharaunda, Asola
  • Get the alumni of the school involved in providing her support; many schools have alumni groups that give monetary assistance to teachers in need.
  • Find out if your school has an association for retired teachers. This group can play a vital role in her rehabilitation.
  • Try and get a health check-up done for her as she might need medical help.

This process will not be easy but persistence will yield results. Please write if you need further help.

Dr Rana is a New Delhi-based social gerontologist and Founder of Positive Aged. Email her with your queries at positiveaged@gmail.com or write to us at contact.us@harmonyindia.org. Visit www.positiveaged.com

Photos: iStock
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
May 2018