By Bamidele Ademola-Olateju
I delayed writing this. I was hoping for a happy ending but the call came in last week; she died. Mama was a text book definition of endurance. She had two sons and they are the best anyone would wish for as a son, friend, brother, husband and father. One of her sons is my friend. I met him on Facebook. He is kind, selfless and generous. Each time I raised money here, I can count on him to donate generously. At one time, unknown to me, he had been on medical leave for a year, yet he donated a significant sum towards caring for people with HIV. As I do with people with whom I relate well with, I often call to check on them. A few weeks ago, he told me his mum had been ill. With every description he gave, I knew trouble was brewing.
My friend had built a house for his mum in one of the Lagos suburbs. Since he and his brother live abroad, they fund her account regularly and got someone to supply her with staples. Old parents with children abroad are often lonely, they surround themselves with family and their children often employ maid to care for them and help with chores. Typically, exploitation and abuse sets in. In this particular case, one of their aunts started drugging the poor woman. On weekly basis, they withdrew at least N70k from her account. As the exploitation grew, the maid and some neighbors became complicit in the scheme. They started inventing illness for her to get more money. Sometimes, they claim N500-N700k a month in medical expenses. Increasingly, they started limiting the time she talks to her sons. Unfortunately, the Pandemic complicated things and they couldn’t come to see her. By January she was given a cancer medication that she reacted to badly. The deterioration started. Damilola Grillo was brought in and the scandal blew open.
How evil can people be! My mind told me the plan is to kill the woman and take her house. I advised my friend to ask that he be added to the estate whatsapp group and get a lawyer to change the locks and bar everyone, except Damilola and her crew, from the house. He did. One of the landlords even told him he might be in danger if he comes home. That is how low we have sunk as a people. Everything including human life is fair game as long as there is money to be made.
These men did all they could for their mother. They got her the best care, and paid consultants but the damaged had been done. Damilola tried her best. Sometimes, she slept in her car at the hospital parking lot, just to be with Mama. At some point we thought she would make it. She even told Damilola that she would stay with her until she’s stable enough to travel abroad. Her sons, one a medical doctor were making plans to move her as soon as travel restrictions are lifted, then…
Abuse and exploitation of the elderly is on the rise. It is so bad that it includes sexual molestation and physical violence. With urbanization and migration, many of us are living away from our parents at a time they need us most. Even when we want them to live with us, aged parents are often reluctant to move because they would feel uprooted from the familiar. Old people who are left alone often have to endure crap to have company. They pay with cash and food to have company. Some maids hit and shove them but the most incipient is the inappropriate administration of drugs. It is so bad that doctors and pastors are in on the ‘game’. Doctors bill their affluent kids for non-existent conditions and pastors exploit them for tithes and church ‘projects’.
If you live away from your parents, be it Lagos or Los Angeles, understand that as old people become frail, they won’t be able to take care of themselves, stand up to bullying caregivers, or defend themselves. Mental and physical deterioration may cause them not think, see or hear like they used to. These will give unscrupulous people opportunities to exploit and abuse them. Old people like all else, deserve to live in safety, with dignity and respect. Here are the warning signs.
1. If the maid or caregiver restricts your access on the phone. Watch out for excuses that mama is sleeping. Phone is bad. Network is “not going”. Battery is dead.
2. Constant falls, bruises and injuries.
3. Drug overdose or failure to take medication.
4. Controlling behavior by caregiver.
5. Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding.
6. Skittish behavior by parents and sentences like “it is well”.
7. Weight loss and malnutrition.
9. ATM withdrawals
10. Pressure on you to send money
11. Changes in wills and power of attorney.
12. Excessive billing for medical services.
13. Over-medication or under-medication.
14. Pastor or Reverend is always asking for help.
15. Foodstuff depleting rapidly.
This list is not exhaustive. Please visit your parents regularly. In old age, your money is good but your visits are best. Ask questions. In the age of social media, enlist reliable friends to pay visits and report back to you. To those who exploit and abuse the elderly, may you grow old and reap your just rewards.