Ghanaians often express amazement that “the whites” put their parents into homes. They consider it a form of neglect and pride themselves that their elderly live with them.
I also expressed this view in my blog post The Hidden Wealth of Traditional Cultures.
But after some recent experiences I now want to suggest a different viewpoint.
When my grandmother broke her hip in her 90s my mother decided that was it – no more living on her own in London and going out dancing! She brought her to live with her on the South Coast.
My mother was volunteering in a nearby old peoples home and used to take her mother along to avoid leaving her home alone. My grandmother developed relationships with residents and was included in their activities. Finally she asked my mother when she would be able to move into the home. The head of the home came to visit her and said she would have to wait a few months. My grandmother burst into tears as she wanted to go right there and then!
Why would she want this?
I’m guessing it’s because she now had a community of friends; regular activities such as outings, games, visiting performers; and access to specialist medical care. She was probably getting bored sitting in my mum’s house with little to do. Also there was the humiliation of having her daughter bath her and take her to the toilet with the added difficulty that my mum was in her 70s! Even so, my mother visited her every day as she only lived down the road.
The added stimulation offered in the home helped her get to 101 where she seemingly made a decision that she had lived a good life and had now had enough.
My grandmother was lucky. I’m not denying that some families dump their parents into homes and forget them. I’m also aware that some homes neglect their residents or abuse them. I’m simply pointing out the issues are more complex.
I have noticed that some Ghanaian homes neglect their elderly even though they are living in the same compound. The elderly lack intellectual stimulation and are just left to sit. Because of their status they are not allowed to do basic tasks and their muscles wither. They don’t have access to the specialist medical care a home would offer.
I notice a big sign on the Tema motorway for an old people’s home that is being built. Things are changing in Ghana.