When planning a new life abroad, many expats forget to seriously consider the implications of disability, advancing age, serious illness and death of a partner later in their lives. These are all issues that readers often tell me about and many realize too late that their new life in the sun has turned into a living nightmare.
One of the issues is due to cultural differences; for example, in most Mediterranean countries, it is the cultural norm for the old and sick to be cared for by their own family members, unlike in the UK and Scandinavia, where many of the elderly spend the latter stages of their lives in sheltered accommodation or in residential care.
As a result, there are few residential homes available for expats in countries such as Spain and Portugal, and sudden illness and changes in other circumstances may mean that it is too late to return to the UK for the necessary care.
End of life care is also another area to consider, since many countries are unable to offer the comprehensive range of services and support that are available in the UK. For instance, in the Canary Islands, there are no hospices or Macmillan nurses to care for the dying.
I recall one recent and very sad case from the Costa Blanca, where one British family abandoned their elderly mother in a local hospital, because they claimed that they could no longer cope with her. The old lady was living in a retirement home in the UK before her son took her to Spain in a bid to save the remaining part of the family estate from the cost of residential care.
After a few months in Spain, the old lady was abandoned at a local hospital. On arrival at hospital she was found to be dehydrated, malnourished, yet fully aware of what was going on, as she had no serious health problems. The elderly woman was discharged from the hospital five days later and an ambulance returned her to her son’s home. The son wanted nothing more to do with her and sent her back to the hospital.
The hospital returned the old lady to her son’s home a second time, but this time accompanied by the police, who handed the son a denuncia (a police report), but the son still refused to accept any responsibility for her. The son was then summoned to court, for which he failed to appear and subsequently he left the area with his family, but without his mother and could not be traced. The old lady, although mentally sound, had a stomach condition and could not live alone as she required a strict diet and regular, supervised medication.
It was left to the courts to decide what to do with the old lady, with the option of either placing her into one of the few care homes in the Costa Blanca, at the expense of the State, or returning her to the UK where she would be with people who could speak the same language.
Although hard to believe, I understand that hospitals report that this situation is becoming quite common and worsens during holiday periods. We often hear of heart-breaking stories of dogs being abandoned during the summer holidays, but abandoning an elderly person overseas takes cruelty to an entirely new level.