‘Everyone has a role to play in caring for older adults’ – Oluwadamilola Grillo

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So many of our elderly population are forgotten about or disregarded in the society, but they need love, attention and support to help them enjoy the bliss of old age. Oluwadamilola Grillo is helping to solve that challenge through her Hold The Age Initiative.

With a B.Sc. in Sociology, and having worked in varying capacities with different organisations, Oluwadamilola, a Gerontologist, founded Hold The Age, a remote advocacy center for older adults in Nigeria. Her passion for the older population saw her pursuing a Masters degree in Gerontology and Ageing Studies at Swansea University in Wales, United Kingdom, under the distinguished Chevening scholarship of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Oluwadamilola established Hold The Age, a remote advocacy and awareness initiative, reaching out to older adults, documenting their experiences after retirement and health status. She keeps herself up-to-date on ageing trends, taking courses from American Society of Aging, MOOC, University of Tasmania, Australia, to name a few. Of particular interest to her are the effects of dementia and the overall mental health of older adults.

Hold The Age has social media handles through which people are educated on old age related matters as well as a blog, www.holdtheage.com, committed to the same purpose. She runs a WhatsApp support group for older adults and young people interested in learning about this stage of life, where discussions about the ageing process are held and an opportunity to chat with various healthcare and social care workers concerning the well-being of older adults is provided.

She is currently the Lagos State Coordinator of The Coalition of Societies for the Rights of Older Persons in Nigeria (COSROPIN), an alumna of Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), West Africa Emerging Leaders Program and a member of British Society of Gerontology. She shares her inspiring story and some valuable tips on the need to pay attention to older adults in this interview.

Childhood Influence
Growing up, I was fortunate to have had my maternal grandmother live with us. Perhaps, this influenced me subconsciously and started me on my present path. I grew up in Ibadan with quite a big nuclear family, my mum worked in various ministries within the Oyo State Government, my dad worked as a Cardiothoracic Surgeon/Professor of Medicine. Education is serious business in my family and my parents ensured we lacked nothing in this area. We had a balanced social life as we were all exposed to everything that could make us better humans and be independent young adults. In all, I had quite an adventurous childhood with my siblings. I left Ibadan to study Sociology at the University of Lagos and took electives in Sociology of Medicine, Gerontology and Sociology of health and illness, these were modules other students had no interest, there were just few students taking these electives. My passion for older adults finally blossomed in my final year as my thesis was on perception of workers towards retirement and it occurred to me that most people’s later years will be fraught with challenges if there are no preparations made and there are lots of gaps to be filled. I began to do my personal research on the study of older adults /ageing, assist older adults in my own little capacity and went on to study Gerontology and Ageing Studies at Swansea University. And today, here I am with a social enterprise to help older adults.

Inspiration behind Hold the age
The number one inspiration is the lack of awareness on the challenges of older adults. These challenges present themselves in varying degrees. One is the plight of older adults is accessing social welfare and other basic needs in Nigeria. Healthcare challenges, absence of older adults’ rights in the Nigerian constitution etc. I was also inspired by the various changes occurring within the Nigerian society, the mass exodus of our youths in pursuit of greener pastures and the dwindling of intergenerational relationship bond that holds families together within the African traditional system, which has made most older adults vulnerable to abuse. I looked at all these gaps and said to myself, the challenges of older adults is a ticking time bomb that can explode anytime if necessary measures are not put in place, and with an intervention center such as Hold the Age, these challenges can be reduced. The organization is open to collaborators, investors and sponsorship on some of our projects.

Being the Lagos Coordinator of The Coalition of Societies for the Rights of Older Persons in Nigeria
Cosropin is an organization that has been pushing the passing of the bill for the Rights of Older Persons in Nigeria as well as ensuring that every organization across Nigeria that is assisting older adults be under a big umbrella where their voice can be heard. As the Lagos Coordinator, my main role is to register every other body that is working to provide ease of life for older adults and ensure they get necessary support from the headquarters of COSROPIN on Abuja.

My commitment to the welfare of older women serving as porters in markets in Ibadan
As the Programme Officer for Center for Growth and Development, I was saddled with a lot of responsibilities and the initiative for the welfare of older women was one of my major responsibilities. I committed myself to this great intervention programme wholeheartedly in order to get the desired result of relieving older women from the strenuous jobs they do by carrying heavy loads in the market. The centre provided the financial resources to get them alternative work that is not strenuous. The women were provided with kiosks to sell household groceries at their various houses. The initial groceries were bought by the center. This intervention programme improved the quality of life for these women, improved access to health checks, they were taught financial freedom through savings and they were able to sustain their trade by saving the profits made which was injected back into their trade. This couldn’t have been done without the Management of Center for Growth and Development especially my boss/mentor, Prof Kassey Garba and her husband.

Certifications and personal growth
I see myself as a work in progress, always striving for personal growth to be a better version of myself a day, week, month or year after. Chevening Scholarship is one of the prestigious scholarships in the world, as it provides you the opportunity to network among alumni across over 160 countries. My Dementia certification is to expand my knowledge and assist me in proffering need-based solutions to my clients and their families on how best to combat the non-communicable disease that researchers are still investigating the root cause and cure for it.

These certifications, in addition to those not mentioned, has broadened my network base, have given me access to a few social capitals through referrals and has also changed my perspectives on the dynamism of individuals as we do not share same values, culture and traditions. This has helped my personal growth especially to view every individual as a unique entity.

Other Projects and activities
Hold the Age has quite a number of projects, among them is a TV media program which we are still looking for sponsorship for. We are currently working on database of volunteers across states in Nigeria to help combat loneliness among older adults, this is quite daunting due to the current security challenges we have in Nigeria at the moment. We also have various fun social activities for older adults tailored to their needs and status. We also assist older adults plan their retirement as this is one phase of life that is totally unpredictable. We train family members and domestic staff on how to care for their older loved ones. We also create content and promote other organisations whose mission is to provide ease of life for older adults, among our other projects.

Challenges of being a Social Entrepreneur
Accessing finance for some of the projects is a major problem, as investors are looking into what appeals more to young adults especially in the entertainment industry.
Collaboration is another challenge, in-as-much as we have a set mission, we’ve met some prospective collaborators that want us to change 70 per cent of our perspective to suit their own needs which is detrimental to the service Hold the Age renders.
Another challenge is people’s mindset of accessing services for free. Hold the Age has a charity arm and we try as much as possible to assist in our capacity. However, people should understand that a social enterprise is run by financial resources and I’m grateful to my family and friends that have been very supportive to us. Our services are affordable and individual based.

Nuggets on how children and the society at large can cater for old people.
Everyone has a role to play in caring for older adults. We all need to assist older adults whenever we see them incapacitated in any area; assist them in crossing our busy roads, respect them and see to it that their fundamental human rights are not infringed upon. Children that are living abroad should ensure they do not neglect their older parents living in Nigeria, I know we are all busy with our lives but frequent communication with our parent goes a long way in helping our parents to feel vibrant and well. Sending money and outsourcing care is not enough, I’ve visited older adults that are presumed to be physically ill only to find out lack of communication with their children is the cause of their illnesses. Also, the society should stop guilt tripping the children on outsourcing their parent’s care to professional experts. This has more negative impacts on society than we can imagine. A lot of people are hiding their parents from family and friends especially those living with dementia due to stigmatisation. Confidentiality is very important at Hold the Age, we seek the consent of our clients before publishing contents that society can benefit from on our website and social media handles.

The government and the society can help by creating more visibility on the plights on older adults as well as proffer solutions to stop stigmatisation faced by older adults and their children as regards the mode of care convenient for their loved ones.

Being a Woman of Rubies
From my research about your platform, Women of Rubies is known to celebrate African women who are contributing to nation building. I believe I’m contributing my little quota by providing ease of lives for older adults within my society. I have seen other women that have been celebrated on your platform and I’m encouraged to do more and be an inspiration for other women, too. I appreciate your platform for creating such an initiative, as it is important to help nurture other women to optimize their full potentials.
Sensitizing the society on the misconception that old people are ‘witches’ and ‘wizards’
This misconception stems from lack of awareness of a lot of challenges that old people face in later years. An example is older adults that are living with dementia, which is oftentimes tagged as witchcraft in some parts of Nigeria. This is majorly due to lack of education/awareness on what dementia is all about. We need to have campaigns and awareness program to sensitise the society like we have for cancer awareness and others to enlighten the populace on the various challenges faced by older adults and put appropriate measures in place to tackle elder abuse.

How to handle elders and seniors in the society
People with little or no knowledge as regards care of older adults should not hesitate to ask questions from experts such as health workers, social workers, Geriatricians, gerontologist and experts in old age related matters. We should always remember we would all grow old one day and think carefully on how we want to be treated in our twilight years. Elder abuse is one area we rarely discuss in this clime and quite a number of our parents are going through one form of abuse or the other, especially from domestic staff. Parents are scared to tell their children about it, too, due to the extent of power some of these domestic staff wield over them. Family members are not exempted from these nefarious acts, too, there are subtle abuses most older adults are currently facing. Some are done unconsciously and we need to keep enlightening the populace on plights of older adults in our society.

What government can do better
The government should build standard and affordable old people’s homes with inbuilt recreation centers for older adults. Create trainings for people that show interest in caring for older adults and ensure that people that are dedicating their services to the care of older adults are given adequate remunerations. The private care homes should be inspected periodically, not only by the Ministry of Social Welfare, but also by the Ministry of Health.

The Guardian

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