Understanding the ways to upscale senior citizens' care and support in India

With increased longevity, the number of elders is likely to go up sharply in near future while elder care practically remains static and over stretched.

Dr A K Sen GuptaUpdated: Sunday, November 06, 2022, 01:02 PM IST
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For a country like India that has a large population of elders (60 plus) of around 140 million, the extent of available elder care facilities is negligible. Historically India grew in early parts after independence as a “welfare nation” but that never comprised of a focused policy aimed at elders, more particularly the poorer among them. As per rough estimate, around 60 per cent elders in India do not enjoy any social benefits after retirement either in terms of pension (from company or state) or any medical facilities. The central pension does not make any economic sense though certain state governments are paying better. Health insurance premium is abnormally high for elder population. Thus, the elders are often left to the mercy of others, may be family members who are in most cases not interested to take care of the elders because of their own problems / issues. Old age homes in government sector virtually do not exist; private ones are grossly under equipped and far surpassing the demand.

So, they have no family or any other stakeholders to support the elders!! So, where do they go? There is virtually no place they can go and therefore, continue to remain wherever they can mainly in homes, subdued, fearful, aloof and disconnected from others. A definite tragedy is looming in the scene unless remedial steps are taken to improve status of elder care in the country. With increased longevity, the number of elders is likely to go up sharply in near future while elder care practically remains static and over stretched.

There is thus an urgent need that all the stakeholders should ponder immediately the strategic steps to improve the status of elder care in India.

Five Urgent Steps Needed:

1. Increased pension: The first and fundamental step is to increase the monthly pension to a minimum respectable figure of Rs 2,000/- per month. Over a period of time, it should be enhanced to Rs 5,000/- pm to enable the elders to live basic decent life.

 2. Improved healthcare: All elders below poverty line must be provided all medical care free of cost both at public as well as private sector hospitals. A certain proportion say, 10 per cent of all hospital beds in private sector must be reserved for elders. All hospitals in the country must have geriatric wings / OPD facility manned by professional geriatric medical practitioners.

3. Augmented senior home facility: There should be at least one (1) old age home at every block level. To start with, the government should set up old age homes at least one (1) in each district with a capacity of around 100 elders with all facilities. This is not a big project as these can easily be set up under CSR scheme of corporate. This is an urgent need particularly in cities / metros as a large number of seniors are facing staying problem / crisis. The government must also set up a number of palliative care units / dedicated old age homes for mentally impaired elders.

4. Enhanced social counseling: One of the serious issues faced by elders in terms of their health is managing their “mental health” related issues. This does not mean mental impairment. With age, cognitive abilities are bound to go down; elders also feel anxiety and stressed. Falling heath has its toll on mental strength as well. There is thus substantive need for “counseling with empathy”. The country immediately needs a significant scaling up of “social geriatric counseling” at all places: homes, old age shelters, hospitals, and so on. Geriatric counselors are a boon in old age by being companion of senior people in distress. We thus need a large number people being trained in basics of geriatric counseling and spending time with seniors being their friends in difficult times. This would help the elders to come out of loneliness syndrome and enable them to age happily.

5. Creating awareness about caregiving: And finally, all stakeholders should join to inculcate a supporting environment through creating increased awareness of caregiving. The concept of caregiving starts from “children”: they should take care of their grandparents. It spans all other family members as well as they are the best people to take care of elders. All college students through their NSS and other social initiatives must learn the tricks of caregiving. All companies as a part of social project should encourage their employees to spend time with elders. Even the elders who are healthy must take care of their comrades who are in need of help. In brief, there should be a social movement in the country to create an “environment of caregiving”. This can only help in solving elder care issues.

Way Forward:

We must appreciate that all of us have to age; that’s the law of nature. As we are born, we must know of the inevitability of being elder and ultimate destiny of death. What is needed is to make the life as pleasant as possible at all phases of life. Elder care is a move in that direction as that would help us to take care of others who till the other day were looking after all of us. With a burgeoning elder population, India needs not only an “elder care policy” but also an “elder friendly environment” where senior care is not only a slogan but a reality. The moment we create an elder friendly society, all segments of population can co-exist in peace and amity. Let’s join together to enhance the spirit of elder care in the country.

Dr A K Sen Gupta is a Chief Trustee of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF). He may be contacted at aksengupta51@gmail.com or +91 98211 28103.   

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