By Diana Erinah Nabbumba
We have just celebrated Christmas. In most families, it is a tradition to celebrate it in the villages whereby children meet with their parents, and grandchildren with their grandparents.
During this holiday celebration, tonnes of food and household items are bought. These include, but not limited to, sugar, soap, salt, rice, maize flour, cooking oil and bread (have I completed the list of items you took to your parents or grandparents this Christmas?).
Further still, it is a time to talk about the major events or tragedies that happened to the elders; the illnesses that they suffered and how they coped with them, or the threats to evacuate that piece of land or properties lost and all misfortunes and hardships that they faced. This usually happens once a year. However, older people need more than just one visit in the whole year.
It is known that grandparents experience poor health, loss of property, food shortages, emotional crises, disability, economic and financial hardships and mental health problems, but these are frequently overlooked. Older people need safe, accessible, and affordable housing.
Before we think of the Government and NGOs to support the elderly, it should start with each one of us, who has an adult relative that needs care and support.
A visit a month or quarterly wouldn’t hurt. Modification or renovation of that house whose roof and walls are almost collapsing would do older people a great favour. How about sending mobile money for their daily or monthly expenses? How about payment of those medical bills?
This wouldn’t necessarily equate to time and money invested in you by your parents for your upbringing, but it is certainly worth it.
There are older people in our villages that do not have those to care for them or relatives due to rural-urban migration and international migration, changing family structures and the impact of HIV/AIDS yet have to raise grandchildren. Can we make an effort to visit at least one older person in our communities?
The role of social workers, government ministries, doctors, nurses and caregivers should not be neglected but rather identified and realised. Social workers should advocate for health care that centres on older people’s health needs.
Cognizant of the fact that the Government of Uganda committed itself to support older people, the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development especially the Department for elderly and disability should strengthen and fast track the implementation of policies pertaining to older people.
A strong workforce knowledgeable in geriatrics and gerontology, family and other community members are essential to advance the health, care, quality of life and well-being of older adults. Health promotion initiatives, which provide older adults and people of all ages with the knowledge and tools to manage and improve their own health in turn promoting active ageing are essential.
Uganda has the opportunity to address issues pertaining to ageing in a way that does not create more financial burden to the government or the tax payers. By promoting policies, programmes and practices that address active ageing, increasing quality of life, in a way, preparing for the next 10-50 years, where the population of older people will exceed that of other age groups.
Through performing arts and music, some Ugandan artists like Iryn Namubiru through her song “Abakadde”, have advocated for support to the older people. Older people need more than just Christmas and New Year visits.
It begins with you and me.
The writer is a Ugandan gerontologist and holds a Master of Science in Social Sciences in Gerontology from the University of Southampton, UK.