Solomon Elusoji recently visited an old people’s home in Lagos and wonders about the manner in which we treat the aged
Sometime in 2015, in Calabar, some persons, stricken by dotage, were thrown out by their families for being in possession of witchcraft powers. Although it was an isolated incident, it is a symbolic commentary on what it means to grow old in a Nigerian society. In Nigeria, “older people’s lives are characterised by growing inadequacies in customary family supports, social exclusion and non-existent social security targeted at them, thus being very vulnerable to poverty and diseases,” an instructor at Covenant University’s Department of Psychology, Dr. Adekeye Olujide said, in a paper published in 2011 by the Network for Health, Education and Welfare of Special People.
The conditions of old people – and societal expectations – in Nigerian communities are not a Hamlet-esque story though. If they escape the witchcraft tag, they are revered as monuments of wisdom and command a great deal of respect from the young generation. A Yoruba proverb suggests that what a child sees from climbing a tree, an elder sees by just sitting on a chair.
The nurture sociology model of most Nigerian communities, too, is shaped like a cycle. It starts from a parent raising and nurturing a child and then the child nurturing and lowering the parent, as careful as possible, to the grave. And then the process is expected to be repeated. But what happens in a world when the nature of that cycle is being threatened?
If the 20th century was the age of machines, this century is the age of information, a phenomenon which has given rise to fast living and fast expectations; more and more, young people are being forced to do whatever it takes to fast-track their careers and optimise their lifestyles, they – millennials – are being advised to live for themselves and make their mark, because life is fleeting and opportunities are scarce. Of course, these sorts of expectations take a toll. They become overbearing when there is a parent or sibling struggling with the biological consequences of old age who expects to be nurtured by family, hands-on; many resort to house-helps and other family members who are, ironically, constrained by the same dynamic limitations. The result is, unfortunately, that more people died less happier than they could have been when the Grim Reaper showed up.
Today, in well developed countries, nursing homes have become a standard form of care for the most aged and incapacitated persons. These homes ensure they receive proper nutritional, psychological and medical care, providing an easy transition to the Great Beyond.
But in Nigeria, nursing homes are stigmatised. In fact, sending your elderly ones – especially your parent – is a sign of abandonment and irresponsibility. Other than the nutritional cycle model found in most Nigerian societies, the stigma arises from the fact that most of the nursing homes – there are about 13 of them – present in the country are not well equipped for the job. From cases of temporary abandonment to interruptions in the supply of basic amenities like food, water and power, the happiness which these homes are supposed to deliver is only a mirage.
So, the first step in helping Nigerians adjust the nutritional cycle model, obviously, will be to provide standard nursing homes where quality care – as it relates to nutrition and mental support systems – is assured.
A modern nursing home for the old
This August, this reporter visited Anne Oyinlola at her Lekki residence. Mrs. Oyinlola is the founder of Purple Square Limited, a company she describes as a Senior Living Solutions Provider. “We provide temporary living solutions with day-to-day activities, within a home setting, for patients not required to stay at the hospital,” she said.
Oyinlola grew up in Nigeria, attending Queens College, before going ahead to study Marketing at the American University of Applied Arts in Atlanta. She returned to Nigeria for the mandatory national youth service programme, worked for a while at UTC as a merchandise buyer, got married and then embraced a life of constant travel abroad. Now, she shuttles between Houston and Lagos.
About five and a half years ago, her father passed on. But before he did, he had some health issues which required, not hospitalisation, but special care. The family got an in-house caregiver to attend to him, but Oyinlola always felt he could have had a better quality of life. “I am not saying the in-house care wasn’t good, but it wasn’t adequate,” she said. “He was just indoors. I felt he would have done better if he had other people to talk to, if he could go for a walk, do exercises, all in a nice, serene environment that would enhance his rehabilitation.” The concept of Purple Square started brewing within her.
At first, she was sceptical of going forward with the idea after studying the dearth of such institutions in Nigeria and observing the nutritional cycle model. But after speaking to several of her Diaspora friends – most of whom had problems with taking care of their aged folks back home – she realised there was a gap that needed to be filled.
She took a course on elderly care and interned with several convalescent homes around her Houston home before deciding to establish her first centre in Lagos. “We provide our patients with everything, with fully personalised care,” she said, “and this is done by working with the patient’s family.”
For its patients, Purple Square offers doctor visits, physical therapy, dietary supervision, and active social participation through religious and inspirational visits. In essence, it is designed to be a bridge between the hospital and the home. “We give them their independence, encourage them to move around and assist them in the restoration of their well-being,” she said.
When this reporter asked Oyinlola whether she would love to spend her twilight years in a home like Purple Square, she said “I wouldn’t want to be a burden to anyone, I would want to remain as active as possible, and that’s what Purple Square helps people achieve.”
The next day after the interview with Oyinlola, this reporter took a trip to Purple Square’s debut home at Heritage Place in Sangotedo, a 41 minutes drive from the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. Heritage Place is a private estate just behind the still recent, sparkling Novare Mall. At the gate, security men requested formal invitation before granting access. The Purple Square homes – all stately bungalows – are the first buildings to the left. A lady – Blessing Atewogboye – opened the front door at the behest of a gentle knock. Blessing is a graduate of Mass Communication from Kogi State University and oversees Purple Square’s operations. “It is not easy to take care of old people, but we do an excellent job,” she said.
Inside, the rooms are airy and comfortable. The furniture is coated in an endearing brown, the white ceilings perfectly complements cream-coloured walls (hallway colours are white). There is a front desk with a shelf of supplements, toiletries and basic first aid. “We have an in-house doctor and specially trained nurses,” Atewogboye said. The medical personnel monitor every aspect of patient care. There is special attention paid to bathroom fitting, with the provision of support systems like hand rails and stools.
A cursory inspection of the rooms, some of which have double beds (“I found out that not everyone wants to stay alone in a room,” Oyinlola says), is followed by a visit to the kitchen. “We have an in-house cook,” Atewogboye explains. Each patient, upon admission, has a diet plan designed to encompass his or her specific requirements.
There is also an outhouse with orthopaedic seats where patients can relax and share memories, a massage parlour – housed in an environmental friendly, beautiful red container for physical therapy, and a restaurant – with glass walls – built to encourage social interaction.
Just in front of the bungalows is a small field. When this reporter was done with the tour, some boys were on it, engrossed in a game of soccer. The view, from the out-house, is refreshing, therapeutic even.
“I’ll not mind spending some of my last days here,” Atewogboye said, “I’ll love it; you have everything at your beck and call.”
Although there were no old persons yet at Purple Square when this reporter visited – Oyinlola said they were already working with some hospitals – it is only a matter of time before the applications turn into an avalanche. However tempting it might be to argue the morality of altering the nutritional cycle mode, change is a constant thing. The 21st century demands different answers.