What challenges faced and are still facing the immigrants-senior citizens living in Malta during the pandemic? Read our contribution to a panel discussion organised for the occasion of World Senior citizen Day celebrated every year on August 21.
From your perspective did the pandemic change how we approach age and ageing across societies?
The Answer to that question for me is “ I hope so”. I hope that we have learnt lessons from this pandemic and that a lot of things will be changed for the better in the way the society takes care of their ageing population.
In general as we know Covid was a killer for the elderly. The first victims and the large numbers of deaths were persons over 60 years old. As the crisis unfolded, enormous flaws were exposed in the health system and in particular in care homes.
It is obvious that things are going to change. Families decided to better look into how their loved ones are taken care of in those homes across Europe. There are court cases going on in order to hold some people responsible.
You can guess that if European families were so badly impacted , it would be worse for the immigrants who are already vulnerable due to their status. Racism exists in hospitals and we know that in the UK and the US the death toll was higher among minorities. It was important to acknowledge all that in order to make a change.
In Africa, the realities of elderly are different because in majority they still live with their families at home so the impact of Covid on them was not separated too much from the one of the rest of the group. Of course young members of the families were encouraged to stay at a safe distance when possible, but the elderly could still hear familiar voices, the food was given to them by familiar hands, it was still a family matter, which for an elderly person, is very reassuring.
How can individuals and communities help and what healthy standards for old persons need to be set?
Look, No one expects a pandemic so the plan for senior citizens is always to secure a safe retirement with a pension and a safe roof.
I think that communities must think of rendering the elderly more autonomous, unless in the case of illness. By autonomous I mean building their brain to remain active as long as possible. Experts say that 30 minutes of physical exercise every day keeps away, and even prevents neuro degenerative diseases.
I firmly believe in the virtue of exercise, which is a cheap solution.
I think communities and the society should promote physical exercise as early as possible, embedded in all pension plans, for the elderly to be autonomous the longest possible into their lives, so they will better face unpredictable crises such as the Covid.
Separation from family and friends predispose particularly immigrant & refugee seniors to higher vulnerability. What in your opinion are the risk factors for immigrant seniors and what do you think can be done?
As we already know, the way society treats elderly persons today assign them a very vulnerable role and so they are vulnerable. Not only because of their age and the fact that some of them need permanent support because of illness or other such conditions, but because the pension plan is about waiting to die in your home or wherever., if you do not resist by planning creative activities.
For senior immigrants, I think it is worse.
Immigrants are the most vulnerable groups in any society, because they are treated as second class citizens everywhere, in all sectors of the society, and unfortunately also in hospitals and in care homes.
So for immigrants who already know their non-official but very effective 2nd place the society has assigned to them, because they live with it every day, it is traumatic to think that they can be separated from the only people who actually treat them fully like equal human beings. I think it is scary. I will be very scared to end up in a care home in Malta because I have experienced racism from medical staff.
Even the fact that for the vaccin, there was this categorisation of who takes it first and then the others already sends the message of who is worth it and who is not.
So I think, a conversation about that specific aspect of the life of elderly immigrants must be on a political or societal agenda. It has to be said because it is real.
Another solution will be for immigrant families to strive to keep their elderly members of the family at home with them. African traditions in a large part have a special relationship with their old people. They stay with them until the last moment, they belong to the household.
Immigrant communities should find a way to support each other to keep their elderly away from care homes.
If possible, They can repatriate their very old members of the family to their country of origin for a peaceful and dignified end of life.