Have We Done Justice To Our Elders?
By Dr Pracheth R, MBBS, MD
Mangalore: Ageing is a natural process, starting from conception to death. Sir James Sterling Ross once commented: “You do not heal old age. You protect it; you promote it; and extend it.” Thus, old age is a normal, inevitable biological phenomenon.
A demographic transition is underway throughout the world, in which there is a shift from high death and birth rates to low, leading to an increase in the proportion of elderly people in the total population. Today, world-wide, there are around 600 million persons aged 60 years and over; this total will double by 2025 and will reach virtually two billion by 2050 – the vast majority of them in the developing world. India, the second largest country in the world, is presently undergoing such a demographic transition with 72 million elderly persons above 60 years of age, which is expected to increase to 179 million in 2030 and further to 301 million in 2050. In our fast ageing world, older people will increasingly play a critical role – through volunteer work, transmitting experience and knowledge, helping their families with caring responsibilities.
However, this increase in the number of elderly will have a direct impact on the demand for health care services and social security. Rapid changes in the sociocultural values, have led to the negligence of the elderly who are economically unproductive. There have been many instances of youngsters not caring enough for their elders. The cases of elder abuse are also on the rise. As per a recent survey, nearly 50% of elderly in India face abuse. Why is our attitude towards the elderly so unfavourable? Why is it that we are reluctant to look after the same people who looked after us with utmost care and affection during our formative years? These are questions which remain unanswered.
One must remember that the elderly are prone to develop many health problems. Thus, one must always stand by them to cope up with these illnesses and prevent further deterioration and damage. There are a few conditions that are incident to the ageing process namely: eye disorders (cataract, glaucoma), deafness, osteoporosis, a respiratory disease called emphysema, changes in mental outlook and failure of special senses. Then, there are a few problems associated with long-term illnesses, namely:Heart conditions (hypertension, vascular disease, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease)
Heart conditions (hypertension, vascular disease, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease)
Incontinence (urine and stool)
Frequent falls, which may lead to fractures
In addition to these ailments, the elderly are also susceptible to psychiatric problems like dementia which includes Alzheimer’s disease, depression, sexual maladjustment due to cessation of reproductive activity in women and diminution of sexual activity on the part of men which may lead to physical and emotional disturbances, irritability, jealousy and despondency.
What has the Government done to safeguard our elderly? The National Policy on Older Persons was announced in the year 1999, which identifies principal areas of intervention like financial security, health care, nutrition, shelter, education, welfare, protection and property of our senior citizens. The National Social Assistance Programme was then launched to provide old age pension to destitute elderly. Travel related concessions are provided to the elderly by various governmental organizations like the Indian Railways, Indian Airlines and State Transport Corporations. Health care is being provided through Bhavishya Arogya Medi-claim and Rural Group Insurance Schemes.
In the year 2007, the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Schemes was launched to provide monthly pension over 65 years and living below poverty line. The National Programme for Health Care of the Elderly was then launched in the year 2007 to provide accessible, affordable and high-quality long-term comprehensive and dedicated services to an ageing population. In addition to this, there are many voluntary organizations working for the cause and care of disadvantaged older people. Helpage India is one such organization which has made an impact on the lives of nearly 6 million senior citizens, through innumerable projects. Similarly, there are many organizations in our City, that have done a great deal of selfless service to the elderly, without expecting any monetary gains.
Despite these measures, we have failed to do complete justice to our elderly. As mentioned earlier in the article, the abuse of elderly has risen drastically, according to a survey conducted by the reputed Helpage India. Nearly 50% of elderly Indians face abuse, with the various forms of abuse being: disrespect at 55%, verbal abuse at 39% and economic exploitation which constitutes 23%. These are shocking statistics, considering the so called civilized and educated society we live in. To make matters worse, the number of destitute elderly are on an alarming rise too.
How could we alleviate this problem? We, as Indian citizens, have an enormous responsibility of ensuring that our elders get the best of care and affection, when they need it most. We must make sure that the services and facilities they are entitled to receive, reach them at any cost. In order to achieve this, awareness regarding health problems associated with ageing and knowledge of the measures taken by the various governmental as well as non-governmental organizations, needs to be disseminated among the public.
Friends, kindly remember. Ageing is a continuous and an inevitable phenomenon. One can never revert it, but we surely can do our bit to help our elders age healthily and gracefully and add life to their years. Take care.
Dr. Pracheth R, MBBS, MD. is a Assistant Professor, Department of Community Medicine, Yenepoya Medical College, Deralakatte, Mangalore.