Life in old people’s Homes: How caregivers cope with stubborn and funny residents

OLAMIDE ENIOLA who was at an old people’s home in Lagos reports what goes on there on a daily basis and how those in charge are coping with the difficult and humorous aspects of taking care of the residents

BY 6:30 a.m., he had already woken up for the daily family morning prayers, in readiness for another day of activities. Since he is still able to move around, despite being wheelchair-bound amputee, Papa Taiwo Gabriel had taken his bath before 9:00 a.m. this particular day, wheeling himself to the dining table for breakfast in the company with fellow resident senior citizens. Welcome to one of the oldest geriatric homes in Nigeria, the Holy Family Home for the Elderly, Lagos.

With some bread, cooked eggs, butter and tea served, the breakfast was set. While some, mostly women, were still waiting patiently for a corporate prayer over the meal, others, mostly men, had started gulping down the food.

“You’ve even started eating without waiting for prayers!” exclaimed one of the women at the man sitting beside her. “Would you let me be? Say your prayers and eat your food,” the man retorted as others silently began to eat.

After breakfast, except on special days when philanthropists, medical teams or some groups are on a courtesy visit to the home with lined-up activities, some of the elderly people normally go for personal prayer in the church, while some watch television in the home’s well-spaced sitting room.

Yet, some others go back to bed while a few others some sit at the veranda to have a view of people coming in and out of the compound.


Need for geriatric homes

Although the African socio-cultural worldview frowns on delegating the role of caring for one’s aged parents other people, the reality today reveals that such a view is now obsolete.

According to a woman, who identified herself as Dunni, the need for such homes is pertinent since senior citizens exhibit varying strange behaviours at advanced ages. She observed that such unbecoming behaviours could constitute a threat and shame to relatives in the neighbourhood.

Drawing from her experience with her aged father, she told Sunday Tribune that: “Our need for geriatric homes has risen in recent time as a result of signs of dementia, a common sickness of the aged, where they speak incoherently, which my father at 81, just started exhibiting recently.

“Taking him into my home is impossible due to the nature of my job. By living in such homes, he will be attended to by specialists, who will give him proper care. Another reason we need these homes is to protect our mother who stays with him at home. She bears the shame alone when dad begins to speak incoherently, making noise in the neighbourhood. This disturbs Mum a lot, psychologically, and it’s a shame to the children too.

“People sometimes accuse us of being negligent in taking care of daddy. People seem to paint the problem as if it was a psychiatric issue, but we know that it is a sign of old age. So we are preparing to take him to one of the Homes soon. As soon as I get the cooperation of my siblings, we will take him there.”

As a student on practicum in 2017 in one of the homes in Ibadan, Zainab Oriade discovered more reasons for the necessity of geriatric homes.

According to her: “In most cases the children are abroad. Also we have working couples who don’t have anybody to stay with and care for their aged people. Sometimes, some of the philanthropists the home is in partnership with pick up homeless aged people and provide them with adequate care and a roof over them. I remember a woman who came to enroll herself. I suppose she just lost her family and all she had, and couldn’t move on with life hassles on her own.”

Though, head of the Holy Family Home for the Elderly, Reverend Sister Anthonia Adebowale, agreed that facilities such as homes for the elderly are valuable, she encouraged parents to take care of their children when they have the strength to, so that those children could reciprocate when the parents are aged, weak and lonely.

“Some have children, some don’t have. Some have children who are not responsible. Normally, children should take care of their aged parents, but if the parents too have failed to take care of their children when the children were much younger, the bond won’t be there. Even for those who don’t have children among them, their family members still come around.

“But the issue is that in recent time, for those who have children, some of those children have marital problems. Keeping aged parents is causing a lot of marital problems for married couples these days. Men, especially, don’t want their in-laws to stay with them. And if the siblings are not interested too, they have to bring them here instead of having constant crises in their homes,” she revealed.

Speaking further she said: “We have a society in the Catholic Church which helps the old. And when they are getting old, without anybody to take care of them, they bring them here. Until the children say they cannot take care of their aged parents or they cannot stay together, they bring them here.”


How I got here — Gabriel Taiwo, 61

The story of how Pa Taiwo got to the Holy Family Home is not unconnected with the effort of the society helping the old in the Catholic Church, which Rev’d Mother Adebowale alluded to.

Going down memory lane, Pa Taiwo recalled that: “I was transferred to Gwagwalada, Abuja from the then Federal Ministry of Works, leaving my family – my mother, my wife and my two children – in Lagos. Back then, telephone communication was not this efficient. I only got to meet my family whenever I was on leave.

“In 1999, I had to come back to Lagos for a promotion exam in my office. But before that time, while I was still away, the family I left behind had died in an inferno caused by kerosene explosion. I was not informed about the event because there was no means of getting to me. So when I came for the interview, I met one of our neighbours, who broke the news to me. I don’t like thinking about it, because it always destabilises me. I passed that promotion test by the grace of God. I almost ran mad. Ever since 1998 when the tragedy struck, I have been alone in life.

“I’ve been attending Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos, since 1975, ever before I left for Abuja. I will never forget Cardinal (Dr) Olubunmi Okogie, through whom I got here. Shortly after losing my family, he hosted me in the church because I couldn’t return to Abuja. Having acquired all manners of technical skills on my job, I started operating the 100KV generator for the church. So one of those days, the church council was having a meeting, and the light went off. So, I had to put the generator on.

“There was an ongoing construction work around the place then. Just on the path leading to where I was going to turn the change-over to switch on power, the contractors had prepared a wet concrete mixture (guarded by plywood), which I didn’t see. As I was trying to turn the switch over, I put my right leg on the supposed plywood, and I discovered the leg was sinking while the left one remains firm on the ground.

“I was shouting for help, and one of the priests who was the first to see me in that precarious condition ran back, perhaps to call others. Eventually, people came around to pull me out of the mud. After the rescue that day, the leg appeared good, without any bruise or bleeding. But on the third day, I saw hell. It had swollen up, and walking with it became difficult.

“I didn’t see it as anything serious until I got to the hospital, where I got admitted. For the next six months, I was on different medications. When the situation of the leg was getting out of hand, with none of the prescribed drug having the expected result, the consultant advised that the leg be amputated. He explained that if it was amputated below the knee, the pain might recur in the future, which might also cost me my life.

“As a result of his advice, coupled with persuasion from people, the amputation was done above the knee. The wound didn’t heal up until nine months after. The left leg has already started swelling too, I think, as a result of the damage done to the other. But then I thank God for my life.

“After leaving the hospital, I couldn’t move back to the church apartment where I used to live. This is because the priest had asked that my luggage be packed out of the church room the day after I was admitted in hospital. He, however, got an accommodation for me in one of the swampy areas in Lagos.

“Bad enough, the place secured was an uncompleted building – all the walls and the floor were not plastered. I don’t think I spent more than a week in the apartment before I developed pneumonia. It was the site developer who put a call through to the cathedral to inform them about my ailment. The church took me to the hospital again and it was from the hospital that it was suggested that I be brought to the home for the elderly, with the help of Dr Okogie.”


Old but aspiring….

As Pa Taiwo spoke with Sunday Tribune, one striking feature he demonstrated was his never-say-die spirit. Although old, he didn’t see himself ending all at the home for the elderly. Nursing the thought of remarrying after the loss of his family, it became impossible when the issue of amputation came up.

“The church was on me then, persuading me to marry from her,” he said, adding:”Since I’ve got here, I’ve been nursing the thought again. My life is in God’s hands, not in any man’s, and I’m going to remarry. I’m only 61. If Zik married a young lady at around 70 or 75 and was still able to procreate, what stops me from re-marrying? The story does not end here for me. As of now, I am alone, but I hope that very soon, I’m going to start afresh, having a family of mine,” he asserted.

Pa Yemi Faderin

Papa Faderin, a retired engineer, also spoke with Sunday Tribune.

“I am already Americanised before coming to this place. I’ve been here and worked for the Federal Government. For a number of years, I’ve been in the U.S. and back. Immediately I had stroke, I have had to be staying at home alone here in Lagos. It is not easy. I got to this home through my elder sister, who is a medical doctor. She brought me to this place so that I will be able to find company. I go for my medication from here and come back after treatment. A vehicle is provided for me and all I do is to pay for the fuel.

“Being here does not mean I am neglected by my children, as people generally believe. In fact, before you can come in here, someone has to be paying for you. Our socio-cultural beliefs hold that children should take care of their aged parents, but do these children have the time? One of my children could have taken me in, but it is a pity; they’ve got their lives to live. I didn’t give birth to them to make them suffer. Let them live their lives; at least, they come here to visit me. I’m okay with that. I interact with them, and there is no problem.

“Keeping a houseboy would have been a way out, but people are not cooperative. Today, I lose this, tomorrow, I lose that, to the point that I was no longer comfortable in my own house. I couldn’t get a faithful houseboy to keep the house. I have had more than six. I had a nasty experience with them all; things were just missing in the house and none of them confessed to being responsible.

“They know me; I let them go. That’s their problem. The house is now locked. I have the keys here. God has blessed me, let me just rest here. When the time comes, namely, as soon as I have somebody who I trust and who can also live with me, I will go back home. God will tell me when I should move.

“We wake up in the morning, pray to God for waking us up, and have our breakfast together. If there is any special programme, we attend. If there is none, we sit at this corridor and watch what is going on. That’s life here.

“On their service, well, Nigerians can never be perfect! I have been here since October last year. Sometimes, when the care givers behave towards my co-colleagues here, I feel mad. But then, I’ve learnt to look over those things, just as my sister had advised me. I’ve worked in saner places than this in America, I know what it is.”


Managing difficult adults

Rev Mother Adebowale who is in charge of the home often has her hands full with the residents. She spoke on some of them revealing that the men often prove very stubborn. One of them Pa Gabriel who is on wheel chair, was told at the hospital to be on high protein diet and to always put his other leg on a pillow in elevation, yet he won’t listen.

“Yesterday, I spoke to him and the priest that brought him here that if baba’s second leg happens to be amputated like the first, he would find himself out of here. This is because that condition is going to psychologically affect him. Once he sees I’m no longer here now, he will go to sit at the corridor, where he won’t be able to elevate the leg. Now the leg is dripping fluids and giving odour that one cannot stand,” she said.

Another elderly man, Pa Faderin, has had a stroke for the past 18 years but often gets cross with the sisters.

“If you see him exchange words with the sisters, you won’t believe it. And you know he drinks. He gets his liquor from the shop in front of us here, despite the fact that the physiotherapist had warned him not to drink. Again, the physiotherapist had given him a gadget to wear on his dropping hand and bending leg to straighten them, yet this man will not use any of them. He takes soft drinks.

“There is another gentle man there. He’s a quiet type, until recently when we discovered he drinks too. He just got his pension and has been spending part of it on alcohol. The guys helping us here are the ones who bring them in at night. The man started by drinking different herbal concoctions before he progressed to alcohol,” she revealed.

There are difficult women too. One of them is Mama Comfort Jesus. Speaking on her, Revd Mother Adebowale said: “It is only God that can save one from her. She told us she was 33 when she came. She has two girls (one in the U.S., the other in England), but she has divided her children. We just didn’t allow her to scatter this house. She is ijangbon first class even at her age. She doesn’t stay here like others. Once she finishes eating, she goes to the church and stays there, up till 5 p.m.

“Most times, she returns when the care givers would have gone home. She sometimes sits at the entrance taking details of what donors bring for us. She will be counting. This Mama will take food to the room despite the fact that we had warned them not to.

“People come here for birthday celebrations and bring cooked food. When these old people eat the food brought, you will think they have never eaten before. The women have handbags in which they keep some of the food and take into the room. They will then start to give false information about our services to the people that come around.

“But then, we are now used to this. We see this as part of dementia. And it is a progressive deterioration of mind. It is bad to the point that this woman, Comfort Jesus, will be cursing people when she is off her mind, claiming her items had been stolen, and talking about going to places she has never been to. And at other times, she will wake up to pray for people.”


Population of the Home

Presently, there are four men and five women in the home. One of them, a woman, passed on some weeks back and is yet to be buried. The house can conveniently accommodate 14 people but a lot of efforts would have to go into caring for them. Each adult, according to Revd Mother Adebowale, has their peculiar needs. Some of them have to put on pampers.

A major problem in the home is finance. Food could sometimes be in short supply. When not satisfied after eating, the old ones ask what the management was going to do with the remaining food items in the store. Fight is not strange, which is often with walking sticks.

Revd Mother Adebowale also acknowledged the contributions of religious bodies, students, doctors, physiotherapists and individuals who keep the home afloat. She noted that she also goes out to seek for funds to augment the finances of the home while acknowledging efforts by individuals who donate different items to the home to make the residents comfortable.

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