It seems wheelchair users over the age of 60 have disappeared! George Louw sets out to find them and make sure they have the care they need
In 1955, Pete Seeger wrote the first three verses of what would become a well-known song: “Where have all the flowers gone?”. In the 1960s, Joe Hickerson added two more verses. The lyrics ask, “Where have all the … gone” and answer “Gone to … every one”, followed by a rhetorical question: “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”
The lyrics tell of how flowers go to young girls, young girls go to their husbands, husbands become soldiers, soldiers go to graveyards, and graveyards return to flowers, which are then picked by young girls. It’s a more profound and poignant “circle of life” than that of The Lion King.
In 2010, The New Statesman, a British political and cultural magazine, listed it as one of the top 20 political songs. It has been sung by a multitude of artists, including Marlene Dietrich, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary.
If you have no idea who I am talking about, you are not old enough to be a Silver Roller, so you don’t have to bother with my question. Or perhaps you should bother, because one day you will be a Silver Roller too…
In December I ran a questionnaire on the Survey Monkey platform to find out more about the state of affairs facing wheelchair users over the age of 60. Perhaps it was the wrong time of the year, or elderly rollers are just not bothered with questionnaires, or they don’t have internet access, because I received only six responses.
All were men and living in private residences. At least five were married – they made mention of a spouse as caregiver. In terms of income, four considered themselves as comfortable, one as well-off and one as struggling. Five respondents felt they were well equipped with disability aids and one felt his were satisfactory.
Only one had a high-level injury and I assume it is the same person who had a power chair. Bowel problems was the most prevalent complaint.
So where have all the Silver Rollers gone? I refuse to believe that my sample of six is representative of the population of elderly rollers.
I have heard stories of residents at independent living centres being asked to leave because of their age – they had become too much of a liability or they were not able to contribute sufficiently to the running of the centre, or whatever excuse was found for evicting them.
But on the other hand, when I do see elderly rollers in public places, they appear by and large to be well groomed and well kept. And they are usually accompanied or assisted by what appear to be spouses. Are they the only survivors?
Or do we have invisible rollers tucked away
somewhere, not seen because there is no one to take them shopping or for a stroll (roll). Have they lost their friends because of problems with accessibility? Are they too scared to go out because they cannot manage their incontinence?
Or have they also “gone for soldiers, fought their battles, lost and gone to graveyards, every one”?
We often hear of invisible people who have fallen by the wayside, who are discarded and swept away by society. Is this also the fate of elderly people with paralysis who do not have loved ones to care for them or who have simply run out of money?
I see children and relatively young adults in wheelchairs begging at street corners, but never an elderly roller. All the old beggars are ambulatory…
We live in difficult and troubled times, when the marginalised suffer the most. People with disabilities are often considered to be marginalised, as are the elderly. So the elderly with disabilities must therefore be doubly marginalised. Has this caused them to become invisible? If so, we need to find them.
QASA and other organisations caring for people with disabilities must be made aware of them. We need to advocate for their care. We need to lobby for resources to care for and reach out to them…
They are part of the reason why organisations like QASA exist. We cannot discard them just because they are not visible to us. So here is a challenge to all ROLLING INSPIRATION readers: If you know of an elderly person with paralysis who is struggling, let us know and we will try to facilitate assistance!
Ida’s Corner is a regular column by George Louw, who qualified as a medical doctor, but, due to a progressing spastic paralysis, he chose a career in health administration. The column is named after Ida Hlongwa, who worked as caregiver for Ari Seirlis for 20 years. Her charm, smile, commitment, quality care and sacrifice set the bar incredibly high for the caregiving fraternity.