Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Old Age Homes

The Elderly in India: And We Keep Neglecting…
Human nature is funny. People take great trouble to preserve relics from the past as some kind of evidence of history. Millions of dollars (or whatever currency is politically correct post-Recession) are spent in restoring heritage buildings, archaeological expeditions and museums. We are paranoid about our glorious past and so we need proof that it had existed at some point. While man-made heritage is preserved, people seem to give two hoots about caring for living heritage in itself.
We must protect an old building because it is a symbol of a rich, living history but it is perfectly acceptable to throw out an old relative because he or she has lost any form of material utility. India is a perfect example of such an attitude.
After a point, even having enough money is not enough to guarantee you a roof. Many elderly people have been rendered homeless after having been thrown out of their houses by their family members, including their children. Some of them had even been well off. India does not have an ageing-friendly environment at all. There is neither any infrastructure, nor any support system to ensure their well-being. Even the Maintenance Act which was passed to ensure that parents have the right to demand support from their children, has been quite a recent phenomenon.
The main problem lies in the fact that there is absolutely no support system for the old in the country. Neither is there any social security, nor any form of community support.
Old Age Homes: Bane or boon?
A DECADE ago, there were hardly any old age homes, barring a few run by the Christian missionaries (orphanages) or the state government. Now every where we see old age homes of all types: for poor, orphans and destitute, pay and stay basis run by individuals, senior citizens associations, NGOs and trusts and the government social welfare department. While many provide shelter and food for older persons, others provide assistance to the physically disabled or bed-ridden individuals. Some old age homes attached to hospitals also offer full fledged geriatric care.
Then the question arises whether such elder homes are a bane or a boon in present changed circumstances. This question was posed to a group of about 450 senior citizens that were a part of a Yahoo Web group called Sss-global. Some 20 senior citizens responded and here is the consolidated opinion of our elders:
  • For senior citizens who are neglected, dumped, abused
  • For parents whose children are abroad or outside their city
  • For those who lack family support due to some reason
  • Strained relationships between senior citizens and their son-in-laws and daughter-in-laws
  • For those living alone, widows and widowers
  • For those without children or anyone to look after
  • For those who cannot carry on with daily chores like washing, cooking, etc by themselves
  • For those who have to pay the charges, fees of pay and stay elder homes
  • For those who run old age homes on fully commercial (read: exploitative) basis
They are a boon also because old age homes call for adjustments and learning from other inmates
However, while living in an old age homes, one has to adjust oneself with the rules and regulations of such homes such as specific meal timings, food habits, servant’s behavior, attitude, etc.
Enjoy other inmates company without getting offended by their habits and attitudes. A person who has lived in a boarding school or hostel may find it easier to get along and adjust in the new environment.
It is a bane when senior citizens are forced to live in old age homes despite having their own children.
Mushrooming of old age homes will only make children give up their responsibilities and send their parents to such homes.
Some moot points that emerged are given below:
  • It is the responsibility of parents to groom children in Indian culture to take care of elders
  • It is a shame to live in old age homes when one’s children are there
  • Parents should teach their kids to be responsible in life
Old Age Homes In India
The dream of the people all over the world to live long lives is now becoming a reality due to the socio-economic development of people and advancement in sciences, particularly medical sciences. In India about 7.5% of the population is above 60 years and the life expectancy is increasing gradually.
Old age was never a problem in India. Old age homes were alien in concept and elder abuse was considered a Western problem. Not any more. As life expectancy has increased from 41 years in 1951 to 64 years today, hundreds of old age homes have sprung up in India. Neglect of parents has become a big issue, so much so that the Indian government has passed "The maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens bill 2006", which makes it imperative for adult children to look after their parents.
Healthy ageing is not only related to the advances in medical technology but also to a wide range of other factors like enabling the aged to lead a stimulating life, being fully involved in society and having meaningful social relationships.
Today's "post-retirement complexes" have a whole range of built-in facilities like 24 hour medical service, a book-shop, bank and post office facilities etc. Some of the high-end complexes also offer open theatres, trips to places of common interest etc for their inmates. But these are only for the elite section of the aged who have the resources to enjoy such facilities.
As the role of families as a social safety net for the elderly is fast eroding, the poor among the elderly have become the most vulnerable sections of society in India. The Indian government is waking up to meet this challenge head on.
Old age homes are a necessity in the present day scenario as the younger generation do not have the time or in many cases the resources to meet their needs (like medical expenses, special food etc). But old age homes should be considered only as a secondary option. Elders in the family are definitely an asset. It is they who can impart the much needed ethical values and code of conduct in the younger generation. Old age homes as an option should be considered only for the betterment of the senior citizens by way of better physical and mental status, greater possibility for social bonding etc. Under no pretext should the aged be made to feel that they are a burden and hence turned away. Builders can also consider allocating a few houses for the senior citizens within an integrated township (at subsidized rates), so that the feeling of isolation goes away while proximity to dear ones is maintained.

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