AGING is not a curse but a blessing. Yet most aged people are subjected to a harsh life as if they have committed a sin or crime by becoming old. Before you grow old and need help from others, make the life of the aged people safe and pleasant.

Bembas have wonderful proverbs that teach the importance of looking after the elderly in society especially our own parents. Here are few of such proverbs. The first on is ‘Mayo mpapa, naine nkakupapa’ (Mother carry me on your back, I will carry you also). This proverb simply means that parents should take care of their children who will in turn take care of them when they are old. The second one is that ‘Kolwe wakota, asabilwa nabana’ (an aged monkey is provided for by young ones). This proverb also teaches that just like young monkeys provide care for their aged monkeys, human beings should do the same. The third proverb is ‘iyakota, yonka mubana’ (an aged animal drinks milk from young ones). Similarly this proverb teaches that aged people should look to their young ones for provision. I am not an expert in Bemba. So bear with me if my translation isn’t absolutely correct.

As a society we seem to have forgotten these fundamental teachings of life. The way most aged people are being looked after leaves much to be desired. The aged people are perceived to be a burden to society. Even at family level, aged people are perceived to be obstacles to family happiness. As a result most aged people in society are often neglected and abandoned. They are impoverished and destitute. They are left to fend for themselves. With the collapsing of extended families, they are the most affected victims. You will find that as soon as you become advanced in age, your own family will instantly call you a witch or wizard. As soon as one family member accuses you as a witch, no other family member would want to look after you. Some aged people have been killed in cold blood simply because they were accused of practicing witchcraft. Is growing old an offense?

ACCUSATIONS OF WITCHCRAFT

Most aged people live in constant fear of being accused as a witch. I remember how we struggled as a family to convince my own late aged mother to shift from the village to town. Her greatest concern was that once she moved to town, town people would accuse her of being a witch. My mother would tell us “I have lived my entire life in the village and no one has pointed a finger at me to accuse me of being a witch. Now if I come to town, even an innocent cat moving in the compound may make town people think that it’s me turning into a cat.” After much persuasion, she finally agreed to move to town. Until she died at the age of 82, no one from the family or the community accused my mother of being a witch. This was a huge achievement to her and to us as children. I pray that I will also grow old and die peacefully without anyone accusing me of being a witch, just like my mother. The aged people that I have interacted with almost always express this constant fear of being accused of being a witch. They are scared to ask for any help including salt. When asking for help, they ask apologetically for fear of being called ‘names’ if they push too hard.

This article is about safety, not witchcraft. So let’s get to our main topic for today. If you are keeping an aged person, always remember that their safety depends on you. You need to ensure that you make their last days on earth pleasant and safe. To achieve this, you need to understand the unique challenges that aged people face. Aging is a natural process and it affects different people differently. Some aged people experience serious physical limitations while others remain quite active. Aging brings changes which are normal and natural.  Being aware of these changes will help you to provide a safe home environment for them. The following are some of the natural changes that come with aging. These changes make aged people prone to accidents and injuries.

The first one is loss of vision. As a person is aging, sight becomes poor. Poor sight makes aged people fail to see properly. Most things become blurred. Aged people become sensitive to glared sunlight or light bulbs. The eyes of aged people take too long to adjust too long to adjust when moving from light to darkness. This means that the aged person may need to stop for a while once they enter a dark room to allow their eyes to adjust and be able to see.

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS DUE TO AGE

 Aged people also find it difficult to differentiate between colours. They also experience decline in perception which makes it difficult for them to judge distance accurately. The second change is the loss of hearing. Aged people experience difficulties in hearing which makes it difficult for them to hear instructions or the sound of the approaching car. An aged person may fail to hear the rumbling sound of the rain until they get soaked. The third change is the loss of the sense of touch. The sensitivity to touch keeps on deteriorating as a person is aging. The aged people experience loss of sensitivity to heat, pain or pressure applied to their body. This makes it difficult for them to detect temperature of hot foods or hot surfaces like a hot stove.

As a result they become vulnerable to burning. The fourth change is loss of the sense of smell. As a person is aging, the sense of smell becomes quite poor. This makes it difficult for the aged people to differentiate between the smell of food and the smell of chemicals putting them at risk of drinking poisonous chemicals.

An aged person can mistakenly eat spoiled food simply because he or she cannot detect its bad smell. Poor smelling abilities also make it difficult for the aged people to detect the leaking gas or the smoke of fire in case of fire. The fifth change is the loss of memory. The memory becomes poor as one ages. The loss of memory makes aged people forget things easily including important simple instructions. For instance the aged person may easily forget when to take medication.

They may also forget where vital items are found such as keys, money, food or switch for the light bulb. The sixth change is the loss of bone density. Bone density reduces with age which results in osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become so thin and brittle that they become easy to break. Poor bone density results in reduced mobility and flexibility. This affects the speed of walking, the height to which feet are lifted and the length of the strides that the aged person can make. As a result it becomes very easy for an aged person to miss steps when walking on staircases or to bump into a stone simply because he or she couldn’t lift the foot high enough. Reduced bone density also makes the aged people prone to fractures. The last change is the poor immune system. The immune system becomes weaker and weaker as a person ages.

Hence the aged person suffers from various illnesses which makes them receive multiple prescriptions of drugs. These drugs may have serious side effects on them and their combination may worsen the situation. Weak immune system makes it difficult for the injuries to heal. There are many more changes that aging brings. You need to be aware of them and identify ways in which they affect the safety of the senior members of the family.

UNDERSTANDING NEEDS OF THE AGED

 If you are looking after an aged person, there are simple but effective ways in which you can prevent their accidents or injuries. Firstly you ought to understand the various needs of the aged person you keep. Like I mentioned earlier, aging affects different people differently. Take time to listen from them. You should remember that aging is new and strange to the person going through it. He or she has never been aged before. It’s the first time they are going through it. So he or she is also learning just like you are also learning. The aged person expects a lot of patience, tolerance and understanding from you. Certain things that they say or do are not deliberate. Sometimes they don’t understand themselves as well. They may experience mood swings or do irritating things that may appear childish to you. You still need to understand them. Secondly ensure that the house is safe for the aged person. Ensure that the house has proper lighting. Practice good housekeeping by avoiding clattering things on the floor which may become tripping hazards. Ensure the floor is always kept dry, clean and clear to avoid falling. Avoid polishing the floor too much. The steps of the house should be flat enough. Provide a lamp or torch instead of candle and matches to be used when there is power failure. If possible, provide ant-slippery surfaces in the bathroom. Put a grab bar in the toilet or on stairs for the aged person to hold to it for support. Balancing is difficult for the aged. Thirdly encourage the aged person to remain physically active. This helps them to develop strong bones and muscles, improve flexibility and maintain good heart and lung function. Allow them to do simple things on their own like folding clothes, spreading the bed, sweeping and picking papers as a way of exercising. If they don’t do them correctly, it’s ok. Correct it for them afterwards. The goal is not for them to do it correctly but to exercise. Tolerate their mistakes. Being active includes normal things like walking, bending and climbing stairs.

In conclusion, don’t label the aged people in your family as witches and use it as an excuse to neglect and abandon them. If you do that, you are just attracting a curse on yourself. Yes looking after aged people can be challenging. But with commitment, you can enjoy it. Never make life for the aged harder than it is already. Prevent your children from making fun of them. Never feel like the aged person is taking too long to die. Let their death come at its own appointed time. Aging is not a disease. Don’t look for a cure. Simply accept it and live with it. Culturally we are expected to look after the elderly in society. God also expects us to look after the aged people. Even common sense teaches us that the aged people need help from others. We will also need help when we grow old. For now, help them. You only have one chance to do it. So do it well. Make their last days on earth memorable. Care for the aged people safely. Stay safe. Zambia needs you and the aged.

The author is the CEO of SafetyFocus, a safety company committed to providing safety training, consultancy and supplying of safety products.

For your comments, contact the author on cell +260 975 255770 or email: marksucceed@gmail.com

 

Mark Kunda—Safety Consultant

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