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I spent much of last week worrying about my ailing grandmother, who stays in Kolkata. Her dementia seems to be deteriorating. My mother and aunt, who care for her, in turns, sounded tired – they are not exactly young themselves, and have their own health to tend to. (Read about my grandmother’s incredible struggle with mental health here: Life after Schizophrenia). And here I was, hundreds of kilometers away, unable to pitch in. I am not alone in this boat, though. According to a study conducted in 2011 by the GoI, the population of Senior Citizen in India (aged 60+), which accounted for 6.7% of total population in 1991, is expected to increase to more than 10% by 2021, a stupendous 140 million people. This brings us to the topic at hand, Senior Citizen Care. How will our aging parents and grandparents, in India, fend for themselves?
Let’s break down the issues we are dealing with here…
Issue #1: Sealed Purses
65% of the elderly in India depend on others for their day-to-day maintenance. The problem is much more severe among women; 85% of senior, Indian women are economically dependent.
Issue #2: Handle with Care
The Indian seniors are, mostly, cared for by their families or unskilled caregivers. The country is yet to innovate a model of health and social care, in keeping with the times.
Issue #3: Safety First
A National Crime Records Bureau report in 2010 stated that 32496 elderly citizens have been murdered and 5836 cases of abuse and kidnapping have been reported in India in the first decade of the millennium. What is shocking is that 42% of the registered offenses were committed by family members and neighbors of these seniors!
Issue #4: Lonely Hearts
Perceived social isolation is a health risk for the elderly, leading to depression and even premature death.
“Both my children live in the US. They keep asking me to go stay with them. But, they are busy and I don’t know anyone there. At least, here I have my neighbors of twenty years”, said Radha Ghoshal, a sixty-five-year-old widow, living in Kolkata.
Surely, the Government has taken some action?
Let’s do a round-up of the important Government policies in the area of Senior Citizen Care in India:
- India woke up to the issues of the elderly very late, in 1999 to be precise, when the National Policy for Older Persons (NPOP) first released.
- The only policy before this was the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) since 1995, for seniors below the poverty line
- The Government initiated the National Program of Healthcare for the Elderly in India (NPHCE), which has established 30 bedded Department of Geriatric in 8 Regional Geriatric Centers.
- In 2007, India legislated the Maintenance of Parents and Senior Citizens Act to mandate need-based care and welfare of senior citizens
- RBI launched a Financial Literacy program in 2007, aimed largely at rural adults. The program has easily available trainer guides that can be adopted for seniors in urban locales as well.
- The National Indian Council on Ageing, Inc. provides employment training and opportunities to low-income, rural seniors with limited literacy skills, through the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).
- Several Police Departments across the country have set up helplines for the elderly. Refer to this list for details. In some states, the police have done a fabulous job of working with local communities to set up effective Neighborhood Watch programs.
While the policies for Senior Citizen Care have been established on paper, their merits on the ground are yet to be realized. Also, most of the policies are directed towards those below the poverty line, leaving the struggling middle class in a quandary.
This is the big conundrum – why has a country, that is culturally known to defer age, been so lackadaisical in creating supportive infrastructure for Senior . The answer, unfortunately, is baked in the question. The Indian culture assumes respect for the elderly. Hence, policy and resources have been focused on enforcing familial and community support, instead of enabling independent living. But, driven by economics, the social structure of India is changing rapidly. The erstwhile Joint Families are dissolving, escalating the issues of the elderly at a rate that the Government is not geared for.
Can private players ease some of the Senior Citizen Care Issues?
The Non-profit Organizations
There are a few non-profit organizations that are waging lonely battles for the cause. The key among them are:
The firms are working relentlessly to provide old age care, counseling support, literacy and employment opportunities to the elderly. These are, possibly, the only affordable solutions for the middle-class senior citizens in urban India.
However, the cause screams for greater participation and contribution from India’s youth.
The New Entrants – the For-Profits
The for-profit private sector has recognized the needs of this demographic segment in the recent years. The largest proliferation has been in the area of health and home care. Some of the best companies that are providing interesting offerings in home-based Senior Citizen care, diagnostic services and geriatric specialists are:
In some of the large cities, the more traditional old-age homes are giving way to retirement resorts that provide double layer security, age-friendly amenities, emergency care and common interest associations. Ashiana Builders in Lavasa and Bhiwandi and Vedanta Senior Living in Bangalore are great examples of this model.
There has been an explosion of special interest and hobbyist groups for seniors, especially in urban areas. Travel agents like Kesari group and 50plusvoyagers.com, among a host of others, are offering special packages for senior folks. Many cities, like Gurgaon, have seen the budding of senior citizen clubs that host trips, picnics, excursions and activities for senior citizens.
Children are also struggling to make it work
“I want to take care of my aging parents, but my work keeps me in Hyderabad. My parents are based in Ranchi”, said Mithun K. “I had always assumed that they would come and stay with me sometime in the future, but that seems unlikely.”
One significant way in which the private sector is contributing is by enabling the young workforce has benefits to ensure better familial support. Almost all organizations are providing benefits to their employees to help them in the cause – parental health insurance, caregiving leaves and flexi-working options are a few examples.
“I can work from anywhere”, said Chitra, an HR executive in a global MNC. “So, often, I work from my parents’ place in Kochi instead of my office in Bangalore. No hassles.” More companies need to recognize the need and provide satellite working or spoke office options to their young employees.
India has barely shifted from denial on its aging issue. There is a lot more awareness that needs to be spread and a load of work that needs to be done in this area. Are there any other ways you know that organizations or individuals are helping the cause? Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we would love to hear from you.
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