ATHENS – George Papadopoulos of Michigan was featured in an article in Kathimerini concerning “brain drain” and the care of the elderly in Greece. Papadopoulos is 52 years of age and a financial consultant who left Greece 30 years ago to pursue his studies in the United States where he settled down to build a family and his career, Kathimerini reported, adding that his mother, however, still lives in Larissa and he worries about her.
“All of the Greeks who immigrated abroad and left their parents back home live with the guilt of not being able to take care of them as they’d like,” Papadopoulos, who regularly travels back home to visit, told Kathimerini. “It’s become much worse since my mother was left alone following the death of my father 11 years ago and it only gets harder as time goes by because her health is becoming increasingly fragile.”
The Kathimerini report noted that “the phenomenon is a relatively new one for Greece,” and “in a country where the main caregivers for the elderly have always been the family, hundreds of Greeks are growing old alone, far away from their children who have built new lives abroad.”
Professor of psychiatry at Athens University’s Aiginiteio Hospital and head of the psychogeriatric department, Antonis Politis, “has observed a surge in recent years of elderly patients who have no one to care for them coming to the hospital and special clinics with memory problems,” Kathimerini reported.
“Apart from people who are alone because they never married, for example, we are also seeing a large number of people who are alone because their children have left the country,” Dr. Politis told Kathimerini.
“These parents are victims of the brain drain that started 20-30 years ago with a wave of young Greeks going abroad to study and deciding to stay there to work,” Kathimerini reported, adding that “many of the parents of that first wave are now in their 70s and 80s, and starting to show signs of mental and physical deterioration.”
“How these children are going to look after their parents is becoming an issue. There’s a care vacuum,” said Politis, noting that “the problem will only get worse as the parents of young Greeks who left in the crisis-driven brain drain of the last decade also start to age,” Kathimerini reported.
“Along with the brain drain, there’s a care drain,” Politis continued, Kathimerini reported. “Apart from a large section of specialized personnel, caregivers also left the country during the crisis. Over time, when their parents reach their 80s, we will have a care gap that I’m not sure we’re prepared for.”
There is also the issue of guilt for the adult children being so far away. “Distance has a multiplier effect, increasing their anxiety about their parents,” Politis told Kathimerini.
“When George Papadopoulos’ mother turned 80 and could no longer cope on her own, he moved her into a local home for the elderly, where she can receive the proper care and have company,” Kathimerini reported.
“At least I know that someone will call me immediately if there’s an emergency,” he told Kathimerini.
Head of Greece’s Association of Elderly Care Units (PEMFI) Stelios Prosalikas told Kathimerini that “the association has also seen a spike in admissions of elderly patients who have no one to look after them.”
“These are people who never married or have only one child or whose child/children live abroad,” he said, noting that “a care home is a luxury many Greeks cannot afford,” Kathimerini reported.
“Given the absence of state-run facilities, most people resort to hiring at-home caregivers, usually foreign women with no formal training who cannot entirely cope with the health problems some elderly people may present. Ask any building manager in Athens and they all have such a tale to tell. It’s a sign of the times,” he told Kathimerini.
Prosalikas added that “families used to consist of several children who could share the cost of taking care of their parents. Now there’s one child at best and things are getting tougher. The problem will really show itself when the parents of our more recent emigres reach the age of 85. Things tend to be OK until they reach their 80s.”
In facing the new challenges, Politis told Kathimerini, “We have to get organized. We need some kind of record where lone individuals are registered so that each municipal authority knows how many there are and who they are. The authorities need to know who to notify that an older person has dementia and behavior disorders, who needs to be mobilized to protect them if they walk away from home unattended.”
“Dementia doesn’t just cause memory problems; it creates behavioral problems, depletes functionality and can come with a high number of comorbidities, meaning the appearance of a lot of parallel health problems. A caregiver at home cannot manage, nor can their child try to control the situation from far away,” Politis told Kathimerini.
Papadopoulos “was not happy with his decision to put his mother into care; he felt guilty,” Kathimerini reported.
“These feelings subsided, though, after I met some of the home’s other residents, many of whom come from the same place my mother does. In any case, I plan to bring her to my place in Michigan for at least two months this year so that she’s close to us and can spend time with her grandchildren, of course,” Papadopoulos told Kathimerini.