Yediot Ahronot, 7 July 2013
A new survey exposes the grim reality of the elderly in Israel.
You shall honor the face of the old man? Not always. According to a survey ordered by the “Friendship Alliance”, one in every ten elderly in Israel is hurt by physical violence, 60 percent do not participate in social activities and a quarter of them are completely lonely. Research shows that loneliness damages health just as alcohol, obesity and smoking do, and it increases the risk of early death.
Last week, the Chinese news reported that the authorities in China enacted a law that requires all civilians to visit their elderly parents. The Chinese, a large and oppressed people, is accustomed to obeying commands, and the Communist Party – a vast and pretentious body – knows very well what is required for one to relieve his loneliness. I do not know how in the world the authorities are intending to enforce this law, but one thing I can say for certain, that in this area the Chinese are ahead of us, the Chosen People.
In the State of Israel – which aggressively sanctifies the child’s rights and needs, invigorates schools to educate and teach and moved by TV programs which provide tips and educational advices to the novice and to the advanced parent – shows no reference to the emotional needs of the elderly person. We are a people that know how to begin with a loud shout but end with a small weak sound: The Israeli child is the masterpiece of the Zionist act, but once this child passes 65, he becomes the social problem no one is interested in resolving. “Ageism” – the well washed term of the discrimination toward the elderly – is just the tip of the iceberg of the uncircumcised heart we have persistently developed during our 65 years of seniority.
The insane reality of the race, after provision and raising children, brutally pushed aside the basic human duty to ourselves and left behind a whole generation to collapse under sadness into its loneliness.
My Grandmother would say that “One mother can raise 10 children, but 10 children cannot raise one mother”. The loneliness and solitude that are pouring down from under the thousands of elderly people’s doorsteps in Israel, and streams into the empty streets of the state of Israel are an evidence to the collective downfall of a society which forsakes where it comes from. The dismaying statistics, again do not lie, but only sets up a sharp mirror against our young, smooth and wrinkle free faces from a sense of guilt. It is no longer about single and out of the usual incidents, but a plague, which the only way to cast it down is by ingraining values.
This is not about visiting the elderly home once a year with the buddies from the youth movement, or distributing honey and apples in the neighbourhood’s elderly club. These sorts of actions do not produce anything, besides the thorough washing of our guilty conscience and eternization of the needy and helpless status of the elderly person. In order to not have to sign in and out of the homes of our elderly parents, as the Chinese are likely to do pretty soon, we ought to remind ourselves that 20 years from now we will be the ones that need to wait shamefully behind a shut door to a rare visit from our kids.
Moni (a Pseudonym), 89 years old from Jerusalem, hasn’t seen his children and grandchildren in months. “They are busy minding their own business”, he says. “I sit by the TV most of the day, that is how I feel less alone”. There are many more out there like him. 1 in every 4 elderly lingers on his own most of the day – according to a new survey done by the Panels institute to the request of the “Friendship Alliance”. According to the survey, there are about 800,000 elderly people living in Israel, 25 percent of these report loneliness; 60 percent don’t take part of any social activity; 8 percent of the elderly in Israel see their families from twice a month to as llittle as only once a month ; and 18 percent define their relationship with their families as decent or “functionally correct”, to being completely disregarded or ignored.
Loneliness among elderlies is an international phenomenon. The British “Guardian” defined loneliness as a “plague”. According to a survey released in the UK, loneliness damages physical wellness much like alcohol, obesity and smoking do. An American research that kept track of 300 thousand elderly throughout 7 years has shown that the risk of premature death is 50 percent higher among lonely elderly in comparison with those that aren’t lonely. The American researchers claim that lack in social support needs to be added to the list of premature death causes. Other studies around the world have shown that loneliness raises the risk of Dementia. According to a British study, a lonely elderly is at a higher risk of having a heart attack than a person who is not lonely, and that if that person had a heart attack being lonely, has a lesser chance of surviving it.
Another painful issue rising from the survey made by the Panels Institute is that 10 percent of the elderly reported of being hurt by physical violence. Most of them reported of being attacked by a stranger on the street or by an attendant. A small few reported of being attacked by their family members. 20 percent of the elderly are afraid to leave their homes. 10 percent of them are afraid of violence. “Elderly people are exposed to two types of violence – Criminal violence by strangers and abuse and negligence by their families”, claims Karmit Hefer-Hentshe, the elderly abuse department coordinator in the social services directorate in the municipality of Tel-Aviv. “Unfortunately, abuse within families by the spouse, the children, and/or son or daughter in laws is more common than what we would tend to think.”
According to her, a survey made 7 years ago in Israel showed that 1 in every 5 elderly experienced abuse or negligence by a family member. “This occurs amongst all populations – Jews, Arabs, Christians – and throughout all of the socio-economic layers of society. Abuse includes physical and sexual violence, being taken advantage financially, negligence and emotional abuse.” The social workers in the social services directorate in the Tel Aviv municipality developed many treatment tools to dealing with the phenomena. According to Hefer-Hentshel, in some of the cases they are dealing with women who have been suffering abuse by their spouse all their lives, but with the ongrowing awareness to the issue today they feel that they are not willing to bear the violence anymore. Another common type of violence occurs when one of the spouses or both become frail due to a disease caused by old age. Diseases such as Parkinson and Alzheimer damage the brain and other social and behavioral functions of the person”, claims Hefer-Hentshel. “Ill people reach very unpleasant and even violent behaviors. Another type of violence arises from children, whom by circumstances of life, live with their parents and do not understand that their parents are not able to support and give them the same services they did in the past, but even need their help. When a crisis occurs, the children lose their patience and reach a situation of physical violence towards the parents.”
“The strength of a society is measured by the way it treats its weaker links”, “A life choosing country, that sees itself as a light to the nations, must put the care for the elderly in the center of its social-economical agenda in Israel.”
“Their old age is shameful”
“800 thousand elderlies live in Israel”
“480 thousand don’t participate in social activity”
“200 thousand report loneliness”
“160 thousand are afraid to leave their house alone”
“80 thousand are hurt by physical violence”
“Upgrading the Club”
Elderlies will enjoy newspapers, books, games and classes.
One of the most burdensome issues for the elderly in Israel, especially for those suffering from physical or financial disability, is the lack of leisure time activities. It is already known that taking part of social activities, studying and even having conversation with acquaintances and friends can significantly delay the cognitive and physical deterioration at old age.
One of the places they can find company and activities is the social clubs. In Israel there are about 1,400 clubs that are supposed to give a framework for elderlies in which they can meet friends and enjoy different classes, lectures, workshops and read books and newspapers. However, from a research made by the Brookdale Institute, it turns out that these elderly clubs are not subsidized equally, and in many municipalities there aren’t proper infrastructures, accessibility means, equipment and a wide variety of quality activities.
We have to make decision NOW to change this fact from the foundation.