Old people are lonely: volunteers

Friday, August 19, 2011
Issue 1388, Page 4
Word count: 652
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung & Vítor Quintã

“Elderly people need more love,” says Tang In, a volunteer at the Holy House of Mercy’s elderly home.

“It’s difficult to wait for the government’s help. Everyone is happy with the cash handouts but it’s more important to build temporary accommodation facilities for the elderly,” she tells the MDTimes.

Tang became a volunteer after retiring in 1997. Already at 66 years old, she looks younger than she actually is and is a youngster compared to some of the people she helps.

She has visited a lot of elderly people who live on the fourth or fifth floor of an old building with no elevators. “They may all have children but they aren’t necessarily able to take care of their parents,” she says.

“Many old people still weren’t allocated social housing until they died. There are also some others who aren’t eligible to apply because they have their own properties even though they may be in very poor conditions, but the Housing Bureau won’t investigate the actual situation,” she adds.

Tang recalls that an elderly woman had been waiting for a social housing unit for nearly a decade but the good news didn’t arrive before she passed away at 80 years old. Although she had a son, he only made less than MOP 2,000 a month and therefore was unable to look after his mother.

“The Housing Bureau needs to be flexible when approving the applications depending on each case,” she says.

She slams the government for not making enough effort to help the aged in the city, especially in the area of accommodation.

“The government always says it is concerned about the elderly, but in reality it is not,” she says.

Chan Lai Wan is another volunteer for the Holy House of Mercy. She believes that the government should inform elderly applicants if they do not meet requirements, “so that they won’t keep waiting indefinitely”.

Chan also says she thinks young people – who were born in the late 80s and 90s – tend to show little concern for the elderly and very few of them will live with their parents.

Tang and Chan come to the elderly home about twice a month to chat with the residents and discuss their needs, and sometimes give cooking classes or help with party decorations.

Caritas’ elderly centre on the 7th floor of Fai Fu Building, Fai Chi Kei, also arranges volunteers to visit residents at least once a month.

In the afternoon of August 5, Chan Siu Peng and two other volunteers spent an hour in one of the flats in the social housing building having a casual chat with an elderly woman who lives alone.

She tells the MDTimes after the visit that the elderly “need people to talk to and care about them the most”, stressing that “giving them lots of gifts won’t really make them happy”.

The 40-year-old says young people spend most of their time at work and overlook their parent’s needs. “Some of the elderly said to me that they feel lucky to have us talking to them as their children may not go to visit them once a month, making them feel lonely and bored,” the mother of three adds.

Loneliness is a heavy burden for many living alone in Macau. But for elderly people with poor health, loneliness may lead to a much more tragic outcome.

Last year 11 elderly residents – eight men and three women – were found dead alone at home, a Public Security Police spokesperson told MDTimes. In the first half of 2011 authorities reported eight similar cases, involving seven men and one woman.

The latter, an 85-year-old, was found dead in February but the security forces believe she could have died up to six months earlier. After the woman was reported missing by friends, police had to wait for a month before her son, living in Brazil, allowed them to break into the flat.

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