Image 1 of 9: Nuclear family dominance has delayed development of Middle East nursing homes, as it’s assumed that the elderly has family to fall back on. Such facilities are highly stigmatized, as are those who chose to use them - which causes a cycle of shame and under-investment. So what options exist for the unmarried, widowed or childless?
Image 1 of 9: Pension or retirement fund schemes are rare and variable across the region. Jordan has a system that makes retirement (barely) affordable; and the International Labor Organization is pressing the UAE to provide a pension for its expat laborers, who right now will have to work their fingers to the bone, until their last breath!
Image 1 of 9: Traffic in Cairo, Dubai, & Beirut is notorious - a game for the young or those strong nerves! Don’t drive? Good luck with public transport - which is elusive or difficult to navigate. Older & car-less, (or no longer fit to navigate the jungle traffic) how do you shop? Visit doctors & friends? Get to mosque? It can drive you to an early grave!
Image 1 of 9: Access to healthcare is excellent in cities, but our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and junk food appetite is causing a shocking uptick in diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. We must reorient healthcare towards managing chronic disease, elderly special needs, and introduce a health culture of prevention and regular check-ups!
Image 1 of 9: The Ailing Spring: The Arab Spring has presented the elderly with a very difficult “winter”, as political instability has left them especially vulnerable to intense economic & security woes. Consider the plight of elderly refugees from Syria & Iraq. Would a metal cabin in Zaatari fit your vision of a dream retirement address?
Image 1 of 9: Brit rockers The Who sang, “Hope I die before I get old!”, but in the Mideast, 'growing old' seems to commence in your late 30’s, when you set aside youthful freedoms, are long married, tied down, and producing the next generation! The rush to 'grow up' means a long adulthood. Why not reintroduce fun & vigor in the final chapters?
Image 1 of 9: “Empty nest” syndrome affects parents everywhere, but it’s aggravated in countries like Lebanon where the majority of youth immigrate elsewhere.“Brain drain” is the norm in our global economy as young workers travel to pursue career dreams. Costs, visa requirements, and physical infirmity makes air travel impossible for many aged.
Image 1 of 9: Older women were traditionally excluded from education and labor markets, leaving them highly dependent on male relatives for navigating the outside world on their behalf. As women of this generation typically outlive their men, it leaves them especially vulnerable - housebound with problems related to loneliness and insufficient medical care.
Image 1 of 9: You’ll sooner spot unicorns on the Corniche than old people exercising in MENA! Age-appropriate activities like yoga or stretching would fast improve the fitness of the aged. Malls in Doha offer 'stroller' clubs for the overweight - why not open these for seniors too? Right now, older folks burn most of their calories chin-wagging (gossiping!)
"You can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a 100," said comedian Woody Allen, who’s getting close to triple digits himself (and who has yet to retire from film-making). But if you have millions in your pocket, old age is a lot less scary!
Retirement is largely a Western world concept - a time of leisure and self-indulgence - a prize earned after years of hard work. For those lucky enough to stay healthy, it’s a chance to take spontaneous trips, renew relationships with partners, make new friends, or spend now -“free” time with the newer sprouts on the family tree.
However, for billions of people, a comfortable, dignified retirement is an unattainable luxury. To shed light on the struggles of the elderly, the World Health Organization has declared June 15 as Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Although Middle Eastern culture is often presented as one that ensures respect for the old, the struggles of our senior citizens are increasing due to the region’s underdeveloped economic, social, and health infrastructure.
Nearly two years ago, Lebanese singer Myriam Fares used her voice to powerfully raise awareness to this 'growing' problem. Her emotional music video captures the sadness of being placed in a nursing home, but truth be said, this is just one aspect of old age in the modern Middle East.
If you have previously assumed that agism is something of a non-issue or at least less marked in the deferential, parent-loving, respect-the-clan-elders observant culture, than the discrimination faced in West by O.A.P's or Senior Citizens, who are the butt of 'old-fogie' jokes and jibes, look again.
While you can’t do much to aleviate Jiddo’s knee pains or lessen Tatta’s indigestion, you can occasionally pay a visit, make a phone call, offer your attention and include them in your life. Social isolation is far more prevalent than actual elder abuse in this defiantly respect-your-elders climate, and it’s easily avoidable.
See our thoughts on aging in Arabia - issues certainly worth shedding light on- in our gallery of concerns for the elderly in the region. We can act now to improve the lives of our elderly, and make needed changes before we go grey ourselves.