Pursuing education and careers in Muscat leaves no time for looking after aged relatives in rural areas of the country
Help the aged: More of Oman's elderly are being abandoned
MUSCAT // Najma Al Sahalani stared at an empty spot in front of her while the nurses were giving her a sponge bath on the hospital bed.
Ten minutes later, she was dressed by the same two nurses, fed a mashed-up lunch then tucked in for her usual afternoon nap.
Ms Al Sahalani is 88 and she is one of the increasing number of aged parents abandoned by their children who have no time to look after them. According to the nurses in the Rostaq Hospital located in the South Batnah Region of Oman, she was admitted by her daughter more than two months ago after she suffered a stroke. The daughter never returned to take her mother back.
“The medical record shows her address and a phone number. The phone is not active and the hospital cannot locate the house listed in the address," Hilary Sharma, the medical attendant who is looking after Ms Najma, told The National.
"She cannot communicate properly with us because of her stroke. We have no choice but to keep her here until we trace her family.”
In the coastal town of Sur in the eastern region of Oman, Mahmood Al Salam, 79, was also confined to a hospital after breaking his back last November while trying to change a light bulb at home. During the five months he spent in hospital, not a single family member visited him. Nor did anyone claim his body when he died last month. He was buried by complete strangers.
“We gave him a decent burial after the hospital contacted us to do so,” Sheikh Hilal al Ghailani, the imam of a local mosque, said. “This is the second time in the last four years that doctors have asked me to perform the burial ritual, with the help of the local community, for an old person who has been abandoned by his family after being admitted to the hospital with an illness.”
Social workers say more and more middle-aged Omanis are pursuing careers in the city and leaving their elderly parents behind in their home towns to struggle alone with disease and infirmity. And they fear it depicts the future of Omani society.
“In the last three years, we have had three to four cases a year nationwide of families abandoning their old parents in their moments of need," said Bashair Al Shamsi, a social worker with Oman Women Association.
"These are just the cases brought to our attention. Some of the hospitals do not contact us at all. They just deal with the situation alone.”
She said there are no statistics recorded for abandoned parents in Oman and it is hard to keep track of how prevalent it is.
“At the moment, it is not widespread but it is beginning to get serious. About ten years ago, we used to hear of parents being abandoned once a year, but it is happening more frequently in a year these days,” Ms Al Shamsi said.
In Oman, the number of elderly people above the age of 65 will reach 75,000 by 2025. With more Omani women working, the concept of caring for the elderly is rapidly changing. The number of older people unable to take care of themselves, due to limited mobility and other physical or mental health problems, will also increase.
“We see a shift in the social fabric of Omani society. Improvements in education means women who traditionally have stayed at home to look after their parents or their in-laws, are now working. They don’t have time for it,” Ms Al Shamsi added.
Some elderly Omanis who live alone are afraid they may die alone after losing touch with their families, either because of irreconcilable differences or sheer neglect.
“I have been living alone for the last 17 years since my husband died. I have a small pension that looks after me but if I fall over and break something then there will not be anyone at home to help me,” said 78-year old Aisha Al Hamdoon, a retired nurse in a government hospital.
“My son and daughter are working in Muscat holding very good positions. They stopped visiting me five years ago because we had an argument about something," Ms Al Hamdoon said. "I have very bad rheumatism and my mobility is not so good these days. I don’t like living alone and I fear for the worse as I get older.”
But not every family is like that. Mohammed Al Azri moved his 81-year old father to live with him after his mother died three years ago.
“He looked after me when I was a child and I don’t see any reason not to look after him in his moment of need,” Mr Al Azri said.