Senior citizens face a drought of love and care as their children abandon them

Old age homes are fast becoming the last resort of the elderly.

Shunned or abandoned by their families, many senior citizens face the prospect of a lonely death at homes for the aged, with staff having to attend to funeral proceedings. Often, the elderly are reluctant to visit their families, in homes they built for their children.

In family after family, the story is the same. Sons and daughters driving their elderly parents out of the house once the property has been bequeathed to them and possession granted.

Sordid tale

Old age homes in Madurai tell a sordid tale of neglect by families, the drought of care and affection faced by parents who have outlived their utility and value to their children.

The irony is inescapable. People pray to be blessed with children, only to suffer callous neglect and abandonment in their twilight years.

For 67-year-old S. Nagarajan, a retired manager of Meenakshi Temple here, it is the free old age home Inba Illam at Pasumalai that egged him to carry on living.

“It is a rebirth for me here, this home is my asylum and I am able to forget the past,” he says choked with emotion.

In spite of having two daughters and a son, he had to go in search of a place to live. He has been in the old age home for two years now.

“My son is in Madurai but the family situation forced me out of my house and today I am happy here. My property went to my son. I have no contact at all with anyone,” Mr. Nagarajan says.

After struggling to bring up their children, elders like him must spend their days alone.

Many would like to surround themselves with the warmth and joy of family life. But their circumstances prevent that.

Rajaji Home for the Aged in Viswanathapuram was the first to come up in the city. It has been providing food, accommodation and care free of charge for the elderly since 1956.

Says J.Vimala, administrative officer, “There are 25 inmates. We take care of them to their last breath. If these people had no children, it would be understandable. But imagine their agony when they have sons and daughters right here in Madurai.”

Ms. Vimala cited the bitter experience of 73-year-old V. Mahalingam from Kariapatti taluk in Virudhunagar district as an example of how children drive their parents out after getting the property. He has three sons and a daughter who live very close to the old age home.

“After my wife’s death, my sons took turns to look after me but I realised it was all for money. True respect and affection were missing. I’m better off here,” the old man says.

As the joint family system fell apart, the number of old age homes rose rapidly. There are nearly 75 care homes in Madurai.

The stories of Lakshmi (75) and Prema (62) at Inba Illam are no different.

“I am here for the past 15 years but have my peace of mind. My sons live in rented homes in Chennai. They threw me out. A Malayalee family brought me to this old age home. My family has not contacted me. I no longer trust my children,” says Lakshmi.

For Prema too, it was a heart-breaking experience when her daughter-in-law put pressure on her son to send her out of the house.

“I have a son living in Thirumangalam and a daughter in Dindigul but they are of no help. I don’t blame them because it is my fate,” she cries.

Once the dejected elders find a place in a home, they quickly get accustomed to the daily routine.

“There are two types of old age homes, paid and free. The Rajaji Home for the Aged affiliated to Guild of Service in Chennai, admits men above 60 years. Any elderly person stranded without family care is taken in and given care free of cost,” says Ms.Vimala.

In Inba Illam, 30 women and 20 men derive solace.

Says warden S.B. Sharmila, “We have a huge waiting list. The understanding between parents and children is breaking down. On an average we receive 10 enquiries every day about vacancies in our home,” she says.

Before giving admission, the consent of family members is obtained.

The inmates are not allowed to go out except on rare occasions, either to visit a relative or a hospital for a routine check up.

They are provided free meals. K.V. Vijaya Prakash, Social Protection Officer, Helpage India (Madurai Divisional Office), says that parents from rich families too are turning to old age homes because their children are abroad or in another city and they have no one to look after them.

Some old age homes take senior citizens either in the free category or on payment depending on the person’s capacity. For instance, Akash Age Care Home at Kadachanenthal provides free service for 12 aged persons.

“I feel sad about the rise in the number of old age homes. But these unfortunate seniors need care. We collect Rs.3,000 per month and there is no deposit,” says K.V. Omkumar, Trustee, Akash Aged Care Home.

Says 70 year-old K.V.Rajagopal, the newest entry into Rajaji Home for the Aged.

“I have two daughters living in Madurai with their in-laws. My wife passed away. I have no place to stay. I am all alone.” Senior citizens are facing a crisis. The old age homes are their only hope.

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