“Disconcerting and disturbing.”
The description was given yesterday by gerontologist Dr Jennifer Rouse following the discovery on Wednesday of 69 people who were locked in cages at the Arouca-based Transformed Life Ministries Rehabilitation Centre (TLM) during a police raid.
Of the 69 rescued, 65 were men and four women. Some were handcuffed. They were all between the ages of 19 and 70 years old.
Rouse said those between the ages of 60 to 70 who were institutionalised at TLM could have been suffering from Alzheimers or dementia and should not have been placed among individuals who had mental disorders or behavioural issues.
In addition, she said you cannot lump mentally ill, uncontrollable, bipolar or violent individuals, homeless people or someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimers in the same facility, as each person would require different care, attention and treatment.
“It’s not a one size fits all. They should not have been mixed in the same facility with persons who are mentally ill or those who are schizophrenic.”
Rouse said it was disconcerting and disturbing to look at the caged people.
“At times, it felt cruel and inhumane because when you reach a stage where you have to see yourself in the least of us. It was horrific to witness because you know it is a human being in there (cages). You know where the disturbance comes from persons getting the optic of seeing how suspected mentally ill are treated. That is what resonated more.”
Equally worrying, Rouse said was that the cages that were padlocked from the outside.
“It meant that those who were locked in could not get out. That was disturbing,” she said.
Sometimes, Rouse said circumstances change overnight for families and they are forced to make decisions that are not ideal for others who are close and dear to them.
Rouse drew reference to a case she dealt with while serving as director of the Division of Ageing involving a daughter and mother.
The daughter, the sole breadwinner worked for minimum wage and could not afford a caregiver for her mother who had memory lapses.
“So she chained her mother to a chair inside the house to keep her from wandering on the streets and getting into trouble. It was sad. But the daughter felt it was the best thing to do.”
Rouse recalled she had advocated for geriatric hospitals and palliative care for the ageing which never materialised.
The issue of mental health, Rouse said was still a taboo subject today in T&T.
“Quite a number of families who have members that are mentally ill or challenged do not like to speak about it. They hide them. So that means there is a kind of shame and failure.”
Some members of society, Rouse said treat senior citizens suffering from Alzheimers and dementia as mental disorders when it is in an old people illness.
Rouse said there was no training for geriatric services and gerontology for our ageing population.
“There are deficiencies in the system.”
She said the drastic change in the family structure has had a regressive impact on social care in our country.
Long ago, she said the extended family used to have built-in support at home and within the community to look after the elderly.
The nuclear family puts the elderly in institutions.
“Those institutions the elderly are placed in do not have proper facilities, staff and require training. They try to do a service but it is not regulated by a regulatory body.”
Rouse said NGOs that provide rehabilitation services are not held to account nor do they face jail, fines, shutdowns or are monitored by regulatory bodies which needed to change with legislation.