Lighting up old age

Youth is a folly which quickly passes, as one classicist wrote. Unfortunately, he was only too right about the fleeting nature of time; we cannot postpone the autumn of life. Ideally, we spend our lives with loved ones but what of those who lack such company?

By Irina Poletaeva

Of course, the state is always ready to provide support to the elderly. New social services were launched in Minsk last summer, proposing two forms of rental relations new to Belarus: those over the age of 70 can give their home to the state, receiving instead a room in a hostel or care residence with a small monthly rental fee for the rest of their lives. Immediately on launching the pilot project, dozens of residents of the capital were ready to take part.

Those leaving their flats can move to Svitanak city hostel for war and labour veterans in the Minsk Region’s Treskovshchina village. They enjoy their own room, five meals a day, 24 hour medical access, and organised leisure activities.Those who prefer to stay in their own home can receive visits from social services and no longer have to pay for utilities or repairs.
No matter where those who have retired chose to live — in their own flat or in a hostel — their pension continues to be provided in full. Their monthly rent varies according to their contract, reflecting the price of their accommodation.

The scheme is currently only available to those who lack relatives (as the law currently obliges next of kin to support senior citizens). Married couples are also eligible if one has reached the age of 70. However, many people prefer to remain in their own homes. Hostel Director Alexander Paranyuk admits that elderly people sometimes agree to the scheme and then have a sudden change of heart. He explains, “I think that there’s a real psychological barrier, making people reluctant to leave the home they have worked hard for. Only two men are currently signing contracts to come to us, and have already chosen rooms. The main factor in their decision is their desire to have others to talk to. The practicalities of running a home also play a role of course.”

Just over 70 people currently reside in the hostel; some pay fees while others are provided for by the state. Their average age is 80-82 and most are women. Of course, romance prevails regardless of age. Cupid’s bow occasionally strikes, with some even deciding to marry, as staff tell us.

The hostel is rather like a block of flats, with each person’s room equipped with furniture, a TV and balcony. Additional appliances can be rented — such as a microwave oven, stereo or DVD player. There are no personal kitchens, but each floor has a fridge, small oven and basic set of utensils. Elevator entry is secure and social services can visit for a small fee.
Naturally, pensioners are welcome to bring their treasured possessions with them, within reason; the 17m square room has its limitations. Guests are welcome but cats and dogs are prohibited, due to hygiene.

“We may decide to allow animals which are unlikely to spread illness — such as fish. So far, nobody has expressed a desire to keep pets, although some have house plants,” notes Mr. Paranyuk.


From race track to embroidery

Grey haired Anna Vasilyevna sits in her armchair, reading. She moved to the hostel after her husband of 50 years passed away. “I borrowed my book from the library; it’s about Pushkin’s murder,” she tells me, pointing to the yellow paged volume. “My eyesight isn’t what it was but I can still read. I feel comfortable here, as it’s quiet and calm; nobody disturbs me. I clean my room in the morning, then either watch TV or read a book. I usually go for a walk in the afternoon.”

Staff note that the pensioners have a wide range of activities they can engage in during the day — from fitness classes to hobbies. The book club is popular, while the men tend to play dominoes, draughts, chessand billiards. Even the gym is busy.

The Treskovshchina hostel will soon have its own fishing site, as a bridge is being built over the pond. Meanwhile, a village sauna is planned, to allow everyone to ‘warm their bones’. “We’ll soon have new medical services on offer, such as hydro massage, pine baths and paraffin therapy. Specialised treatments will also become available, using leeches and beestings, acupuncture and reflexology to make pensioners comfortable. We don’t want them to regret having left their homes, so we’ll provide them with the best opportunities for companionship and medical attention,” explains Mr. Paranyuk.
Of course, no one wants to spend their final years staring at silent walls. Who wouldn’t rather receive attention and help and be surrounded by friendly faces?

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