The invisible lives of our elderly citizens

A study by the National School of Public Health whose results were made public in Sunday’s Kathimerini shows that 46 percent of the elderly in this country feel isolated within society. According to this survey, they believe that if anything were to happen to them, no one would care, or even notice. The reality of this sad situation was revealed in all its glory in a morning chat show aired over the weekend. An 80-year-old woman from Crete, who had fallen victim to a rapist a quarter of her age and failed to receive any support from her neighbors, was talking to the presenter of the chat show about her experience. It became evident that this was the only person she felt she could confide in about her experience. «I have been watching you every morning for the past 16 years and I feel as if you are family,» she told the host of the show. For this woman, as for many other elderly citizens in Greece, television has substituted family, has become her only companion and adviser, the only «live» presence in her life. In London, about 1,000 people every month die alone – invisible, hidden deaths. And these are not wretched people, who had no future or hopes. They are simply people who have been cut off from their fellow citizens in the heart of a buzzing metropolis. It is as if these people had not lived their lives giving, falling in love, making sacrifices for their children, for their work. And here they are now, thrown away like empty plastic bags. The old people of today are fully aware that their neighbors are not interested in them, that they do not have a high-ranking place on their children’s agendas, that they are stranded with their own fears, anxieties and responsibilities. And so, in order to escape from this unbearable sense of abandonment, they immerse themselves in the world of television, the only place where they feel they are welcomed, where they can participate (everyone is equal in front of the TV). Of course they do not admit to themselves that the lives they lead are pale imitations of the real thing. They live through their televisions – it is as simple as that. Gradually, this artificial, sanitized form of communication entirely replaces all human contact. Zoning out in front of these images, our fellow citizens try to forget the harsh realities of being old, the absence of any future, the irreversible deterioration of the flesh and mind. Once upon a time, the elderly members of our communities enjoyed greater support as they were not excluded by a society that idealized youth. Today this safety net has become a wall of protection that the young set up to separate them from the old. And it seems that this is happening because we have become scared of old age and natural degeneration.