Medical advances have caused life expectancy to rise to levels that would once have been unimaginable. This is obviously good but it also presents a whole new set of societal challenges. As The National reported yesterday, the changing nature of family relationships has meant that some of our elderly have fallen prey to abusive caregivers.
The Federal National Council is due to discuss the issue today and Mohammed bin Ham, an FNC member representing Abu Dhabi, is expected to cite the case of an elderly Emirati man from Dibba. He was exploited by an unscrupulous housemaid. It is a shocking story but unfortunately could be fairly common one. It could also be emblematic of a much wider problem. There are just under a hundred reported cases of elderly Emiratis living alone who are financially exploitated by their carers. It is likely there are many other cases that go unreported.
In the past, the elderly would have been cared for by members of their family. But the rituals of modern life have changed that, such as when members of a family living in the northern Emirates commute to Dubai or Abu Dhabi for work. In such cases, families opt for alternative ways to care for their elderly relatives, and this may include employing carers, some of whom may turn out to be abusive. While the vast majority of paid helpers perform their duties with skill, care and empathy, there will always be some who do not.
This is an important issue and will become increasingly relevant as the population ages, making it worthy of the FNC’s attention and that of the Cabinet. Fortunately, efforts to deal with the situation have already begun. There is a nationwide plan to give the elderly health services and benefits including a steady income. However, as Dr bin Ham notes, it has not yet been implemented.
It goes without saying that the elderly deserve dignity, respect and comfort in the sunset of their lives. Many of the people who are in their seventies or eighties today grew up at a time when life was much more difficult. They helped build this country, turning it into the stable and prosperous society that benefits us all today. They have the right to a life of dignity.