In Europe there is a term for them: ‘Grey gold'. In Kerala they have not graduated from being considered a ‘nuisance' in many instances, yet. Europe's ‘grey gold' and Kerala's ‘they' are elders – aged parents (dependent or otherwise), retirees etc. ‘Grey gold' not because they are an asset, intellectually or otherwise, but because taking care of the aged (read nursing homes) is a flourishing business in Europe! The alchemy of economics might convert this category of our population into gold in our country too, like it has in Europe.

Hastens death

When Dominique Predali, French author, journalist and elder abuse activist talks about how Europe's aged are sent to ‘nursing homes' (in our parlance old age homes) hastening the process of their death, one realises there is one more way in which the world is unified: through the abuse of elders.

Dominique has coauthored books on elder abuse. These are ‘On Tue Les Vieux' [On elder killing in France] and ‘Douze Geriatres En Colere' [12 Angry Geriatricians] on elder abuse in the world. Elder abuse is linked to economics. Most nursing homes that ‘look' after the elderly target profits, and in order to generate that costs have to be cut down. “This generally involves cutting down on personnel, food and water…” says Dominique. These cuts have repercussions on the way care is administered to ‘dependants' (elders in need of help). The most dependent are the most abused, she says. Nursing homes for the aged are a necessity in European countries.

“The staff is overworked. How do you clean a bedridden person in five minutes? These people have to be cleaned thoroughly and gently. Each limb, wrinkle and fold needs more time than five minutes. What about feeding? You think any feeding happens?” she asks. Bedsores are common.

As part of the research for the book, she went to a nursing home in suburban Paris at night and found that there was one night watch for around 90 dependent patients. According to her the three common but preventable causes of death of elders are dehydration, malnutrition and bedsores. The others are overmedication and falls. It is shocking to hear stories of elder abuse within the system of institutionalised care. “The institutions which record most profit are the places where the most abuse takes place,” she says. The phenomenon is not unique to France; it is the same as far its neighbours go. It is common in Australia and Canada too. She says, “In Australia, while the budget for prisoners is $5 per meal, for the aged it is $5 for the whole day's dietary requirements.”

Writing on elder abuse is a part of her oeuvre. She has also written exposes on the agri-food business in her book, ‘Votre Caddie En Otage', and on how the pharmaceutical business works in another of her books, ‘La Sante Aux Mains Des Predateurs'.

She says most people who manipulate lives through medicines are not ‘monsters', but ‘regular' people. One of the bosses of a pharma giant told her in chilling terms what a good drug is for him and she hasn't been able to get the words out of her mind. “He said, ‘the best drug is not that which cured but that which made life bearable.'”

She attributes her ability to traverse subjects as diverse as these to an inherent sense of curiosity. In between all this she also happens to have a doctorate in English literature. She is an artist and a jewellery designer too.

Coming face to face with the darker side of life, how does she cope? She laughs and reveals the other side of her personality as author, an alter ego with a pseudonym. Meet Ines Peyret, author of a series on household ‘Hints and Tips', using things which are commonly available in any kitchen, “mind you not a student's!” There are tips using vinegar, on gardening, recycling, using spices, oil etc. The book using spices came about after her sojourn in India. Innes Peyret is subtle as far as a pseudonym goes when compared to Anna Conda, another pseudonym. Dominique laughs, “It is really in your face, isn't it?” Under that name she has written ‘Parlez Soft' (on politically correct speech). “Politicians have to be politically correct. So, when there is war there is collateral damage. What they mean is people will be killed or maimed but collateral damage sounds so much better. The media uses politically correct terms. When that happens everything becomes all right. It is not,” she says. There are times when ‘a spade should be called a shovel!'

Doesn't her kind of writing put her at risk of being sued? “I take care. I collect all the evidence which is usually mountains of papers and keep it safe. I have my facts right, so there is no way I can be sued.” Dominique is actually in India for a very personal reason, not as an activist.

Medical tourist

Dental tourism has been bringing Dominique Predali to Kochi for the past few years. She is planning a cycle rally ‘Cycling for smiles', for a charity at a city hospital, later this year.