Italians “dumping grandparents”

Barbara McMahon— © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

The number of Italian grandparents living alone because their families do not want them is increasing.

ITALY’S IMAGE as a family-centred society has taken a knock with the revelation that thousands of grandparents spent a lonely Christmas in hospital because their families did not want them at home.

According to doctors, some 10 per cent to 20 per cent of over-70s in Italian hospital wards could have been discharged for the festive season but relatives made excuses to keep them in care.

Middle-class families in the north were twice as likely as working-class families in the poorer south to abandon their relatives, research found.

No room for parents

Adult children said they did not have room to accommodate their parents for Christmas or they could not get time off work to care for them.

Others said they could not cope with their medical needs, although it would often only have involved ensuring they took medication.

The numbers of grandparents living alone are on the increase and Il Messaggero, which reported the issue of Christmas abandonments on Tuesday, said these once-revered members of the family were being treated like “cumbersome packages.”

Roberto Messina, head of a Rome-based charity for elderly people, said that many know they are unwanted. “The saddest time is when an old person remains alone during visiting hours,” he said.

“They pull the covers up, close their eyes and pretend to be asleep, but in reality they are crying and clenching their teeth.”

According to Ido Iori, president of an organisation that monitors hospital admissions, some old people plead to be allowed to stay in hospital until after the festivities, as they have no company at home. Abandonment causes problems for hospitals, which are supposed to discharge people from general wards, if they are well enough, after three or four days.

But there has been some festive cheer. The charity Caritas reported that a Christmas scheme in which Italian families open their homes to old people living alone, immigrants or other people in need has been more successful than ever this year.

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