[Homestead] No AARP voting bloc in Italy to compel cross-generational aid
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Thu Sep 23 00:39:31 EDT 2004
Selling the79-year old tutorial services may be an option.
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from the September 23, 2004 edition
A lonely Italian retiree puts himself up for adoption
By Sophie Arie | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
SAN POLO DEI CAVALIERI, ITALY - Seven cats and a modest book collection
are all that 79-year-old Giorgio Angelozzi has for company on most days.
High up in the hills east of Rome, the retired teacher lives in a humble
two-room flat overlooking a valley of rolling olive groves. The house is
tidy, except for a layer of cat fluff that reappears after the cleaning
lady's weekly visit. In a side cabinet sit Greek dictionaries and works
by Horace and Pliny.
TOO QUIET: Giorgio Angelozzi, 79, outside his home in Italy.
Europe balks at reforms pushing retirement age back
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Things are quiet, too quiet.
After 12 years alone since the death of his wife, this summer Mr.
Angelozzi became so desperate for human contact that he put himself up
for adoption. In a newspaper classified, he offered to pay 500 euros to
live with a family and teach their children.
"The days went by and I used to count," he says. "There were some days
when I counted zero. I had not said a word all day."
Angelozzi's story has triggered a nationwide attack of guilt and public
debate over how best to care for the elderly. While families and
officials try new solutions, Angelozzi took matters into his own hands.
After all, he wasn't getting any younger - and neither is Italy, which
has the world's oldest population.
A recent report from the research group Censis said 49.1 percent of
Italy's over-65s, roughly 6 million in a country of almost 60 million,
are living alone.
The days of pew-length Italian families are long gone. In recent
decades, families have broken up in search of work. Divorce and
separation have risen steadily, and working parents have had fewer
children, making Italy's birth-rate one of the world's lowest.
"In the past, grandparents have always had a major role to play in the
traditional large Italian family model," says Roberto Menotti, research
fellow at the Aspen Institute in Rome. "There was always a mutual
commitment. Families needed grandparents; they relied on them to keep
things going. Now some meet only twice a year, not once a week."
Angelozzi has not spoken to his 53-year-old aid-worker daughter since
Easter, when she rang from Afghanistan.
Nor does he have much contact with neighbors. Upon retiring, he moved
from Rome to a dead-end road on the edge of town. The difficult walk up
and down the hill, as well as an aversion to "meaningless conversations"
with people at church or in the public square, kept him an outsider in
He made one monthly outing, a taxi ride to Tivoli for groceries, where
he would stock up on sausages and 90 tins of cat food. On his 1,400
euros ($1,700) pension, Angelozzi ate sparsely, drinking Nescafe at the
end of the month when he could not afford real coffee.
A senior-sitter service
In Rome, commercial services are emerging to step in where the state and
the family are absent.
Senior Sitters, the first agency of its kind in Italy, employs a team of
qualified "companions," hireable for 10 euros an hour, to cook, clean,
and dress hair at home, but mostly to take wobbly pensioners shopping,
to the cinema, to see friends, and even on vacation.
"Italy needs Senior Sitters as much as it does baby sitters, if not
more," said Rosa Anna Felici, who set up the agency in January this
year. "The elderly are like children. They can't or don't dare go out
alone. But if we leave them shut in their homes, it's not much of a life."
The agency employed roughly 40 sitters during August, when many families
booked their services to cover holiday periods. Families are more aware
of the threat that summer heat poses to their elderly loved ones. As in
France, thousands of Italy's pensioners died during the heat wave of
2003 while many of their relatives were away on vacation.
This summer, Italy's health minister suggested the elderly should be
brought to supermarkets and cinemas to cool down and escape their
isolation during the hottest months. But resources for the elderly are
scarce on the local level, and the proposal met widespread criticism.
Several local governments have launched advertising campaigns in local
newspapers, offering to provide a kind of "dating service" to hook up
isolated seniors with large families needing help at home.
"Local governments are realizing that there is a supply and demand that
can be made to match," Menotti says. "Without spending large amounts of
money, local authorities can play the middleman, the matchmaker."
Italy's old folks are the fastest growing sector of its population. At
19.1 percent this year, roughly one Italian in five is over 65. The
independent research agency Eurispes estimates that by 2026, they will
number almost 15 million in 2026 and by 2051, 18 million. Almost 1 in 3
Italians will be a pensioner.
No AARP muscle here
But the elderly have yet to wield much political clout.
"Until now, governments have tended to ignore pensioners," says Carlo
Fatuzzo, Italy's first and, so far, Europe's only member of a
"Pensioners' Party" to have won a seat in the European parliament. "But
pensioners are beginning to take hold of the power that strength in
numbers gives them."
As for Angelozzi, the future is bright. Within days of his SOS, scores
of letters addressed to 'Il Professore' began arriving at his door.
Families across Italy and as far away as New Zealand, Canada, and
Argentina offered to rescue the old man from his solitude.
This week he plans to take the first airplane ride of his life to meet
his potential new family: a couple in northern Italy who have one
teenage son. They have offered him the use of an independent flat and
waived his offer of payment. He fell for the sound of the mother's voice
on the phone. "When I hear that voice," he says, gently closing his eyes
and smiling, "it feels so good, like the way my cats feel when I stroke
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