When we are young, the world is our oyster with mountains to climb and the sky our only limit.
Birthdays can’t come fast enough so we can grow up and be adults, and when the clock starts going faster we shrug it off because there is still a long way for it to go.
Suddenly you’ve arrived where you never thought you would ever get and the pension starts to be drawn, the body engine starts to need an awful lot of servicing and replacement parts become essential, whilst we also discover how many bits can be removed without which we can still function quite well.
Recently my strong, healthy husband became ill. For three whole months, I was doing the visits to the hospital and the caring when he finally came home. I can’t say I enjoyed it. He was genuinely ill but like most men gave himself up to his weakened state unable to do anything for himself.
It was a fraught and lonely time of imagining a bleak future, perhaps with him reduced to a chair and me having to wheel a large man around in a country ill-prepared for wheelchair users, added to which I have my own physical weaknesses and would find it difficult to cope.
Happily, he recovered and is probably good for another few years, but it gave me a shock and did lead me to wondering what we both would do if the need should arise for more permanent care.
The social services here do provide home services and will certainly come to the house to take care of patients needing assistance. They also provide meals on wheels although I’m not quite sure if the Portuguese menu would be to many foreigners’ taste.
There are day care centres popping up all over the place as the community becomes more aware of its elderly and women find they no longer have the time to take care of their parents and work.
The problem comes when internment is needed. There seem to be very few homes where your last years can be spent in comfort or with a modicum of privacy. Most of the ones I am aware of take very few people, have waiting lists and many are only for those who are fast reaching pretty much total incapacity.
Being older whilst you are still a couple and can enjoy life together is one thing, but when you find yourself alone, some people find life more difficult. For the outgoing person perhaps it’s easier to break the ice in new social situations, but many partners are used to being in the shadow of their other half, and when that person is no longer there find it difficult to face life alone outside of their own four walls.
This is the time that thoughts start turning to some sort of residential home, where company can be found and medical assistance is not far away.
If you are comfortably off of course you don’t need to worry. Your needs are well catered for if not always in the area you want to be, but for those on more modest incomes Portugal offers very little.
Where are the entrepreneurs building small blocks of safe housing where for a reasonable amount you can buy an apartment with access to a communal area for when you want some like-minded company – perhaps with a permanent live-in carer, someone with medical qualifications on hand to deal with a minor crisis and knows who to call when more serious?
I live in Lagoa and there must be thousands of foreigners in the general vicinity who would prefer to remain in Portugal than return to a care home in their country of origin if one was available, or move in with their children.
Instead of building more luxury complexes, why not something more modest and practical for the older generation who live on less but would appreciate living in such an environment, somewhere where the still active can follow their hobbies and sports but under a watchful eye.
If you are having the same thoughts, why not get in touch or perhaps you know of something in the pipeline you could tell us about, because I imagine there are quite a few thinking now about their future and not too distant needs.
It doesn’t need to be too well located – doesn’t even have to have a sea view but yes – easy access to a few shops, a place to sit outside and feel the warmth of the sun – maybe by a pool and all the bits and pieces that are helpful for those not too steady on their legs anymore, with a few friendly faces and some company when you no longer have a partner in life with whom to share a little conversation. Is it too much to ask?
By Jenny Grainer
Jenny Grainer arrived in the Algarve to live, work and raise a family in 1964. She is a freelance writer and her book ‘Portugal and the Algarve Now and Then’ is now in its 3rd printing.