Cyprus Mail
Guest ColumnistOpinion

The challenges of managing old age

It is hard to explain how some can stay active and, for example, ski well into their 80s, while others just give up

By Clive Turner

“Old age? Old age’s a bastard!” So exclaimed an elderly lady my wife and I met in Australia. I have never forgotten her broad Aussie outburst as she sat there with a nasty cyst on a leg.

Most of us know an old person who is far from well – and that’s before looking in the mirror. Yes, it’s sad to witness the inevitable decline from the vigorous, fit and energetic personality one used to be, full of a zest for life and always looking to the future. Yet there are those fortunate characters who never seem to age, like the lively dermatologist with whom I used to play tennis, and who was also a competitive skier – at 87. True, he died a year or two later, but went out on a high of former good health.

Everyone copes with old age in their own way; some simply giving up and gently collapsing into the armchair with a book, the television and a glass of something comforting. But what, you might ask, is wrong with that? Others continue to dash about “keeping busy”, as they will tell you, but whose energy fills you with a combination of envy, amazement and sheer admiration. How do they do it? There is no simple answer. Is it all in the genes? Is there some exclusive drive? Is it just luck? Is it a determination to live life to the full for as long as possible? Is it a fear of the alternative?

Then there are the kind of elderly folk whose seemingly boundless will to make the very most of the years left to them exude a sort of quite irritating confidence which to the rest of us comes over as an unfair advantage which surely we deserve just as much. Haven’t we led a good, moderate and sensible life, worthy of good health and an enjoyable retirement? But there are plenty of us who just fritter away the years wallowing in poor health and expect friends and relatives to pour sympathy, time and endless goodwill in what we believe to be simply our just due. Know anyone like that?

Some illnesses are terminal, and in the later stages little can be done about them other than palliative measures which in Cyprus are certainly available. Families here are extraordinarily supportive and to see the host of relatives and friends who crowd into a hospital ward visiting a patient is an astonishing sight, though a bit of a worry for hospital staff. Although used to this outpouring of love, encouragement and reassurance, they nevertheless worry about the possible deleterious effect on their patients.

One of the saddest situations anywhere in the world, and we are not spared this here, is dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. (The two are not the same thing).

In a November 2015 issue of the Cyprus Sunday Mail there was an excellent article entitled ‘Unprepared for Alzheimer’s time bomb’, written  by Annette Chryysostomou, where she highlighted that we have 14,000 people over 60 here suffering from dementia, let alone Alzheimer’s (9,500). There is the Alzheimer’s Patients Association, with contacts in Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol, Famagusta and Paphos. This year there are to be seminars on care for such patients, and these will be addressed by psychologists and lecturers from the Cyprus University of Technology.

The Alzheimer’s Association and the government have a strategic plan which dates back to 2010 – but has not yet been fully implemented. Its main goals are to improve public awareness, upgrade facilities, provide higher quality care and develop a supportive network. “A lot of it can be implemented at low cost or at no cost, and we will concentrate on that,” said head of the Cyprus Alzheimer’s Association, Antigoni Diakou. There is a day care centre in Nicosia running five days a week, for 25 patients. It was founded in 2007 with the help of the Rotary Club and funding from the EU for the first two years – but now it is wholly funded by the Rotary Club. It is staffed by a wonderful mix of experts, and they also pay close attention to the needs of the relatives who suffer desperate frustration and often a deeply related depression. Another centre is in Lythrodontas open three days a week but only 12 patients can use it at a time.

There are other circumstances where an elderly relative may not have dementia or Alzheimer’s but whose needs are such that they cannot continue to live alone. Finding a care home for these needs is a challenge in Cyprus and a lot of people just give up. They find a carer to live in. And that can work well. Still, I know one couple with an elderly mother (and mother in law) who have found a good home in Paphos but it costs 1,800 euros a month for a private room with ensuite facilities. If the resident is prepared to share, then the cost drops to 900 euros a month. But not everyone can afford these fees, fair as they might be.

The prospect of old age, and perhaps being left on one’s own, is for some terrifying and extremely depressing. Yet, there are specialists who can advise on how best to cope with what lies ahead. Coupled with the support of friends and family, and recognising there are facilities (admittedly limited in scope in Cyprus) designed to make old age and infirmity not only bearable but almost entirely manageable, it does mean that there is no need to sink into despair and resignation.

What was it that character used to say in Tommy Handley’s radio sitcom all those years ago?  “It’s being so cheerful wot keeps me going!”


Clive Turner can be contacted on [email protected]

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