Slovak retirement homes

Slovakia is shrinking. Not the country but the population. According to Eurostat there'll be 600 thousand less Slovaks by mid century. Put another way, as the population ages, it will decrease by 12 percent. To try and attract some new blood a populist Slovak politician wants the country to specialise in tourism for the elderly - attracting Westerners who can live in Slovak retirement homes more cheaply than in their native countries. But as Anca Dragu reports - Slovakia is having trouble accommodating its own elderly.

The population is ageing very quickly despite the fact that the number of babies has been slightly increasing lately. Many Slovaks have been facing a hard question: what to do with their old parents who are ill, lonely and for whom they can't find time to take care of simply because their own family duties are very demanding:

"There is a shortage of retirement houses for old people in Slovakia. We should bear in mind that most of them do not have enough money to cover their daily living costs in the outside world so in order to make these institutions accessible to them, we have to offer fairly low prices. I think entrepreneurs do not see the quick financial benefits of opening a retirement house. I see potential in this area if the social policy of this state changes a bit and maybe older people receive some support from social insurance agency for example. Many of them have worked and paid their social contributions for years and ended up with peanuts,"

...says Maria Kellova the director of the retirement house Senecio, in Devinska Nova Ves.

It was opened in January this year under the management of the local town hall that also finances it partially. The rest of the funds come from sponsors and the fees paid by its 26 clients. One bedroom costs 15 euro per day while a double room is a bit cheaper, 10 euro. Food costs another 3 to 4 euro daily depending on whether someone requires a special diet.

In the bright spring morning two of the residents were preparing to take a walk. One of them, a former teacher, had her room filled with pictures of her lifetime spent in school.

"I had 30 pupils in my class. Can you imagine how hard was to control all of them? At least now when I am old I want to have peace. Today I feel well, I slept well and because the weather is so nice I will have a walk with my friend who is my neighbour here. There is a nice landscape around here and the personnel is good to us and so young."

My interviewee could see the cemetery from her window and though I didn't dare to ask her about the somehow strange location of the house, I couldn't stop thinking about it during the whole visit.

"We the employees have the same feeling like you regarding the vicinity of the cemetery but our clients have a completely different attitude. They find it pleasant and even take long walks there because they say it's like a park, and in the end, all of us will rest there one day, says my guide, the young therapist."