HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

Respect, honour and care for our elderly

Cook Islands culture places great importance on respect for elders within the community. However the reality of today’s faster-paced society has meant that the respect and care for our elders is disappearing in some cases and has become an issue the community as a whole needs to address.
This is the message of Nga Teao-Papatua, or Aunty Nga, who is a Senior Welfare Inspector for Elderlies, for the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Intaff) Social Welfare Division.
Intaff Welfare Officers have been conducting home visits for the elderly during February and March, visiting over 25 homes in total so far. The visits usually occur on a weekly basis and are part of ongoing work conducted by Intaff in addressing the needs of the elderly. Teao-Papatua says that from what she has seen during her home visits, the biggest issue for the elderly is loneliness and a lack of company. “Some elderlies are lonely, because of being alone, living on their own. So they seem to be talking to themselves, which is not good. They are needing someone to talk to... someone to ask for help. They need someone to share with [and] someone to socialise with.” She says this is an area of priority in her work, especially since loneliness can lead to development of mental health issues. Teao-Papatua is calling on the wider community to assist in addressing this. “I’d like to ask the community if ever they are aware that there are elderlies [living] around them but they don’t have time to visit or to see how they are – even just to say good morning, just to say hello – ask others or ring the agencies dealing with elderlies. Like Are Pa Metua, Te Kainga, Creative Centre... And ring us here in the Ministry.”
Teao-Papatua says that in some cases where they visited elderlies who were displaying symptoms of loneliness, the families had gone overseas. But there were cases where the families were living locally but were not allocating enough time in their schedule to visit their elderly relatives. She says during one recent visit they encountered an elderly couple who have children living here and working here. “But,” she says, “they are not [visiting]. Maybe they are busy. They are parents as well [and] they have their own family to support.” Teao-Papatua’s suggestion is for families to come together as a whole and create a roster for visiting their elderly parents or grandparents. She added that this approach will ensure that elderlies are receiving visits more frequently, ideally every day. “This week, this child and his or her family visits to see how the parents are. Instead of all of them coming at the same time, they can make a weekly roster. Then maybe once a month, or whatever, they plan to come together, maybe on the weekend. They come together and have a lunch and see how [the parents] are and what their needs are.” She says providing regular company and social interaction for our elderly is vital. “That will really keep them alive and push their morale up. Keep them away from thinking about negative things in life – [and ensure they] look at positive things. I really believe in that.”
Other issues Teao-Papatua has experienced in the field include a lack of sound bedroom and bathroom facilities in the homes of some elderly. She says a programme to improve the homes of the elderly is something Intaff is currently working on, however they are still in the process of planning. She called on families to rally together to identify where home improvements need to be made for their aging relatives and to all contribute to getting those improvements done.
Another issue is a lack of food in the homes of some elderly. “[Usually] I see foodstuffs in the cupboard. But I want to share an experience... when we visited this home there was nothing at all for an elderly couple. We asked who looks after their pension and we were told the family looks after the money. It’s sad that the pension is not helping – that’s why the government gave the benefit for the elderly, to help them. We’re supposed to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for the elderly.” She added that in this case the couple was often only receiving one full meal a day, also often not until late in the day. Teao-Papatua did however commend the work of various community groups. “Some of them are telling me that they do receive food donations from the church sometimes, from organisations, when they have a function. A couple told me that they do receive meals on wheels from the creative centre, which is good. Only once a week, but it’s a start.”
Teao-Papatua also expressed concern at the cleanliness of some of the homes of the elderly, who often need outside assistance with tasks such as cleaning. “We visited a guy and looked at the bedding around him... so filthy, so dirty. We went again a second time, same thing.” She added emotionally, “There are some cases we deal with that gives us... pain. To see the way our elderly are treated.”
The solution, according to Teao-Papatua, is for all members of community – including youth, church or village groups – to begin to be more aware of the elderlies living amongst us. She suggests that groups hold more frequent functions for the elderly in their village where they can socialise and participate in activities. Teao-Papatua added that those who have neighbours who are elderly should visit or even just engage in conversation with their neighbours. She remarked, “Let them be part of the community ALL the time, not just sometimes. [It needs to be] an ongoing programme.”
She says that for the elderly who are happy and outgoing, it is because their children are around them and supporting them. “Please take time to look out for our elderly. That community spirit – that community way of coming together – is fading out. So I would like to see the community come back together again, so that we will all be supporting eachother and be united.”

Herald Issue 608 21 March
- Terms of one China Policy document should be reviewed
- Pacific Media Assistance Scheme Seeks Innovation
- Successful NZ visit by PM
- Rerekura Teaurere New Climate Change Coordinator
- News Briefs

Copyright 2006 Cook Islands Herald online . All rights reserved.