India is virtually seeing an explosion of elderly population. During the earlier decade from 1991 to 2001, the rate of decadal growth of elderly population was around 26 per cent compared to 22 per cent of other segments. However, the variation became wide in the subsequent decade (2001-2011) upto which date is officially available: decadal growth of elderly people has been around 36 per cent compared to 18 per cent in other sectors. It is estimated that the population of elderly people in India by 2050 will reach a stupendous figure of 300 million.
Characteristics of Elderly Population:
While aging is normal process, there are several issues of concern that crop up with many elderly people as they grow older. These comprise physical illness including those unique to elderly people like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer or Dementia or chronic issues like pain of arthritis, reduced sleep, among others. Then there are problems related to mental anxiety, loneliness and depression. For many senior citizens, declining financial stability adds further to the problem. All these three dimensions (physical / mental / financial) contribute to unique state of depressed mind amidst elderly people as they see no positive end in sight.
Need for Geriatric Counsellors:
In the above backdrop, there is an urgent need of a large number of geriatric counsellors in the Indian context. Theses counsellors are trained individuals in the art of counselling, possess required skills / attitude and willing to be with elderly people to provide solutions to their multifarious problems. “Geriatric counselling is an antidote that offers emotional support and enhances quality of life and well-being among our elderly”, opines Vidya Shenoy, Specialist in Dementia care and Secretary General, Alzheimer’s & Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI).
Needed Skillsets and Educational Intervention:
Some of the essential skillsets for a good geriatric counsellor include:
1. Understanding psychology of elderly people
2. Empathy with attitude and behavioural identities of elderly
3. Willingness to work with elderly people
4. Pleasing personality
5. Abundant patience
6. Awareness about the physical / emotional / financial problems of elderly people
7. Good communication skills
A question is often asked if a formal qualification is needed to be a good geriatric counsellor. The answer is obviously yes. A formal educational intervention will impart required knowledge, develop skills and foster attitude to become a good counsellor. This is true for any profession.
One can do either a general counselling course from a good institution and try to specialize in the geriatric counselling (subject to availability of such option) or do a highly specialized course like Diploma in Gerontology from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) or PG Diploma in Integrated Geriatric Care from National Institute of Social Defence (Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India).
Considering serious shortage of good and trained geriatric counsellors in India, there is no dearth of career opportunities for right talent though under-employment remains an issue of concern. There are career opportunities in hospitals (geriatric wings), old age homes, specialized careers like geriatric dietician / pharmacist / psychiatrist. There are immense opportunities to work on free-lancer basis with old age communities, associations, old age homes or even private practice.
There is a misconception that a geriatric counsellor is associated with only medical need of elderly. In fact, the role of such a counsellor encompasses all the needs of an elderly, that include:
1. Healthy companion in games / activities / exercises
2. Solution provider for minor medication / nutrition aspects
3. Anxiety / depression remover
4. Guidance for financial basic issues
5. Companion / medical support provider for serious problems like Parkinson’s / Dementia / Alzheimer’s / stroke / paralysis, etc.
6. A friend & advisor to an elderly person
It is heartening to see that some specialized old age homes are serious in terms of geriatric counselling support. “We also want to focus on another program for seniors and their families to engage for their emotional and social well-being through our unique geriatric counselling program”, says Prasad Bhide, Founder & CEO, Aaji Care Home Health Services.
India is in dire need of thousands of trained geriatric counsellors. Unfortunately, this has been a neglected area among all stakeholders including policy makers, hospitals / old age homes as well as educational institutions. As number of elders rise, it is high time that all join together to build capacity in this crucial area for benefit of elderly people. We recommend the seniors who have just retired and are physically active to take up “Geriatric Counselling” as a new career.
Dr A K Sen Gupta, Co-Founder and Chief Trustee of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF). He may be contacted at email@example.com or 9821128103.