[ExI] aging in italy
spike66 at comcast.net
Sat Jul 7 21:49:19 UTC 2007
Amara and our European friends might be interested in D'Emilio's take on
aging in Europe:
Italy's Aged Turn to Foreigners for Care
Saturday, July 07, 2007
By FRANCES D'EMILIO, Associated Press Writer
ROME - As a police officer, Luigi Marzano was used to being in command. He
still walks ramrod straight, but at 97 and deep into retirement, his memory
is weakening and he has turned over command of his household to a virtual
stranger half his age.
Rita Duda, who left Ukraine in search of work, lays out caffe latte and
cookies each day for Marzano's breakfast, shops for him, and, every
afternoon after his nap accompanies him to a bench on the corner, which he
shares with ladies and gentlemen in their 70s and 80s while their caretakers
_ Ukrainians, Moldavians, Poles and Romanians _ catch up on gossip.
Marzano is one of a swelling number of Italians entrusting themselves to an
army of foreign workers from
Europe, South America, Asia and Africa who are doing what families here are
increasingly can't or won't do _ take care of their elderly.
Long life and low birthrates have conspired to change family life, which
long had been the one institution Italians could count on while history
rolled past, with its parade of conquerors and short-lived governments.
Italy's demographics _ and Europe's as a whole _ give new meaning to the
term "Old World."
Twenty-four of the world's 25 oldest countries are in Europe, noted a joint
report by the European Commission and AARP, a U.S. lobby for the elderly.
Japan's population, with 27 percent of it older than 60 in 2005, is a shade
grayer than Italy's 26 percent.
Italian life expectancy is 78.3 years for men and 84 for women. But more
significantly, Italy holds the world record for the highest percentage of
what experts call the "old old." One out of every five elderly Italians is
Meanwhile, the incentives to have children are few. Italians joke that by
the time their children qualify for scant public day care, they are too old
breaks for minor dependents are miserly. Costly housing makes it hard to
give a child his or her own room.
Italy, home to the Vatican and predominantly Catholic, legalized abortion in
1978, and Italians upheld the law in a 1981 referendum, despite fierce
opposition by the Vatican to abortion. And Italians have long tended to
ignore Vatican teaching forbidding contraception.
Now, with so many living so long _ and with retirement possible as early as
age 57 _ Italy is paying the price in medical care, pensions and
security, for having so few children.
While decisions to have one or no children might make for easier lifestyles
when young, a generation or two later the choice means fewer children and
grandchildren to help the aged.
"Without Rita, I wouldn't be able to manage," said Marzano, running his cane
through his fingers and fretting about how he'll manage this summer with
substitute home companions when Duda, a 48-year-old divorced woman, visits
her family in Ukraine.
Marzano has outlived his wife, sister, three brothers and a son. His other
son lives in the neighborhood with his daughter-in-law, who is in poor
On Thursday afternoons, when Duda is off, a granddaughter comes to keep him
company. On Sundays, Duda's other day off, his son's family bring him lunch,
but they don't stay with him to eat it, Marzano said.
"I would have thought I would have lived with my son; I would never have
thought that it would be like this," said Marzano.
Duda and others, paid for by the elderly's children or by the elderly
themselves, are Italy's fast-growing substitute for "assisted living"
facilities, which are nearly nonexistent in this country.
Putting grandma or grandpa in a nursing home when they no longer are
self-sufficient hasn't caught on much here, possibly because Italians tend
to distrust institutions.
So the emphasis here remains on the home, even while home is ever more
likely to mean home alone.
In 1950, Italy had five adult children for every elderly parent. Now five
has shrunk to a a statistical 1.5 and by 2050 there won't even be one adult
child for every elderly person, said Antonio Golini, a demographer at Rome's
La Sapienza University.
So dependent have Italians become on the foreign caregivers that when the
government offered an amnesty a few years ago for illegal immigrants, it
placed no limits on the number of foreigners a family could employ if the
workers cared for elderly.
Golini has been crusading for years for Italians to have more children,
accept more immigrants and work longer.
"My terror is that we will reach old age abandoned," Golini, 69, said in an
Italy's "grayest" region is Liguria, in the northwest, where 27.5 percent of
its population is over 65. There is a waiting list for a program providing
the elderly with $475 a month to help pay for home companions.
"Old people, and especially those who are alone and not independent, are
going to be one of the emergencies Italy will have to face in the future,"
said Massimiliano Costa, Liguria's commissioner for social policy.
Emilio Mortillo, a bioethicist at Aging Society, a think tank in Rome,
pointed out that some parts of Italy's affluent north have more retirees
than workers, and predicted that Italians will have to increasingly rely on
immigrants to help them cope.
But immigration is relatively new to Italy, and surveys show many Italians
blame immigrants for crime.
So some elderly, fearful of admitting foreigners to their homes, turn to
another old fixture of Italy _ nuns of the Roman Catholic Church.
Waiting for nuns to serve her dinner at the Pius X home for the aged in
Rome, 83-year-old Maria Laura Riva De Filippis said her daughter didn't want
a foreigner to care for her mother at home.
"And rightly so. You hear so many stories about them, my daughter would
say," said De Filippis. "My daughter said I could live with her, but she
kept telling me: 'I leave for work at 8 a.m. and you'll be alone all day.'"
Since nuns labor for God instead of a paycheck, room and board at homes for
oldsters run by religious orders cost much less than at traditional nursing
Caring for the elderly as a business also makes economic sense for the nuns.
When there were no longer enough children to fill the classrooms, the
Disciples of Sisters of Eucharistic Jesus converted a nursery and elementary
school in Rome's middle-class Garbatella neighborhood into a rest home.
"Our mothers stayed at home caring for their mothers and their
mothers-in-law," said Sister Maria Cecilia at the home. "Now women work and
don't even have time to care for their own children."
The residents, whom the nuns call "guests," pay $1,770 month _ modest
compared with the
States where monthly costs in a large city can easily top $10,000.
Ninety-year-old Italia Matteucci, elegant in a long pearl necklace, pearl
stud earrings, a red cardigan and a wool plaid skirt, pays for her room in
the former elementary school out of her monthly pension check.
She had been living alone in a studio apartment but "I was afraid that
they'd find me dead there some day," and so she turned to the nuns.
Her 68-year-old daughter has health problems, and her two grandsons, in
their 30s, rarely come either, said Matteucci.
Many of the caregivers come from countries where families are large and the
concept of abandoning oldsters is inconceivable.
"In my country you don't see this," said Rosa Elena Floris, an Ecuadorean
taking a course for home companions at Rome's Catholic Sacred Heart
University. "We're always at the side" of the elderly.
Floris cared for an Italian woman for eight years until she died at 89.
"The woman had a son and a daughter, but she almost never saw them,"
recalled Floris. "They would call and say, 'Is everything OK? Did she take
When the university first offered the course, in 1999, only foreigners
enrolled, said Dr. Flavia Caretta, a geriatrics specialist who runs the
program. But this year's course had a sprinkling of Italians, suggesting
they see a growth industry offering a career.
The foreign caretakers earn about $1,500 monthly, handsome compared to wages
in their homelands, or about 30 percent less if they live in and receive
room and board.
Among the remedies for aging societies are raising the
retirement age to save on pensions, and encouraging bigger families.
This year German lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to gradually raise the
retirement age from 65 to 67 by 2012. Spain uses incentives to encourage
people to work beyond 65.
Poland, with one of Europe's lowest fertility rates, recently began a costly
program of tax exemptions, longer maternity leaves and better preschool
services to encourage bigger families.
But Italy's center-left government, pressured by unions which make up much
of Premier Romano Prodi's constituency, is going in the other direction. It
has promised to undo the previous, conservative government's reform to raise
the retirement age from 57 to 60.
Daniele Pinto in Rome contributed to this report.
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