By: Dr Makhosazane Ntuli, Dr Sphiwe Madiba and Willemien Jansen
The elderly in our communities are often seen as soft targets of exploitation, abuse, crime and neglect. South Africa has just over 2.75 million older people, 1 million of which are already over the age of 75. To create awareness of what the elderly are going through, and to encourage all South Africans to treat the elderly with love, respect, patience and dignity, the Turn turquoise for the elderly campaign runs from 15 May (International Family Day) until 15 June (World Elderly Abuse Awareness Day). Organisations like Badisa, one of the largest organisations who care for the elderly in the Western and Northern Cape, use this time to create awareness of their activities and to raise funds for their projects.
According to Ntuli & Madiba (2021), the elderly in South Africa have proved time and again that they are strong, compassionate, loving, hopeful and resilient despite lots of hardships and financial difficulties they face. This research explored the role of the elderly parents taking care of their adult children with AIDS related illnesses. Where children previously took care of their elderly parents, parents now have to take care of their sick adult children affected by the HIV and AIDS pandemic. They take on this responsibility without any help from other family members, feeling that it is their obligation, duty and responsibility toward their children. Instead of seeing it as a burden, it is a responsibility that they take on willingly. However, caregiving at the serious stage of the illness is extremely demanding.
Most of the older people interviewed for the study have their own chronic illnesses, specifically hypertension and diabetes mellitus. Even though taking care of their sick children affect their own health, and comes with emotional, physical, social and financial stress, it does not deter the elderly parents from doing the best they can for their often terminally ill adult children. This also comes despite the fact that no formal assistance is available, and they have to use their pensions to take care of extended families. These older persons often also have to take care of their grandchildren, which comes with its own unique challenges. Carers have to sacrifice their own income to take care of their children and grandchildren full-time.
Despite the many difficulties that the elderly parents face, they also manage to bring hope to their sick adult children. They show love, support and try to boost the mental state of their children through encouragement and doing what they can to spoil them and make them feel special. Because of their personal experiences, the older persons play a critical role in encouraging their family members, friends and acquaintances to get tested and adhere to their antiretroviral treatments (ARTs). Many of the elder caregivers collect condoms from clinics and take them home to encourage their adult children to use them if they are sexually active. They even develop informal counselling skills that allow them to support their children and others going through the same difficulties. They are able to provide education and guidance to their children and grandchildren about HIV counseling and testing, and regular testing. In some cases, children will recover, which provides the elderly caregiver with a sense of fulfilment and reward.
Our elderly might be vulnerable and often neglected, but they are also strong, caring, wise and resilient. They play a vital role within our families and communities, and should be celebrated.
Makhosazane Ntuli & Sphiwe Madiba | (2021) The role of elderly carers in HIV prevention and care; the perspectives of older adults in underprivileged communities in South Africa, Cogent Social Sciences, 7:1, 1827763.
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