If in traditional societies care for the old and feeble was completely imposed over the institution of a family, the age of individual freedom and greater geographic mobility challenged us with the weakening of blood ties, increasing the chances of facing old age in solitude. But as history and, well, life shows any obstacle can be overcome and so nursing homes came into being as a substitute to the aforementioned traditionalist paradigm. While nursing homes seems to operate quite functionally in the west, in my native Azerbaijan the situation is drastically different. Of course there are a number of reasons for this: cultural, economical and sociopolitical.
First, most people with physically or mentally challenged family members prefer to silence the very existence of the matter. Second, the existing institutions (psychiatric hospitals, hospices, orphanages, etc.) are nothing more than an inherited sad legacy of the Soviet Union in dire need of serious transformations.
A lonely old man who finds himself within the walls of the gerontology department, has to leave the kingdom of people during his lifetime. His whole life is reduced to the confinement provided by the state beds. The monotone walls, the monotone rhythm of one unexciting day replacing another, the lack of incentives for life, even the most basic ones, like a mirror reminding the man about his own image – all of these promote not just the progression of the disease, but mere dehumanization of any person living under such circumstances. As cynical as it may sound, the only consolation for such patients is the thought of their being much less ahead than behind.
Azerbaijan ‘boasts’ a single branch of gerontology in the psychiatric clinic in Mashtaghy. Designed to hold 65 patients, it currently serves 83. According to the WHO predictions, the total number of people with imbecility, Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia will increase significantly in the coming decades.