KV Network

Taking care of the elderly

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Unfortunately, in India, there is almost no formal awareness program- even at higher level institutions or organizations- for people to prepare for old age

Syed Mustafa Ahmad

It is a universal fact that a large number of people enter “old age” with little, or no, awareness of what it entails. While demographically, we acknowledge that a person is considered to be old when he or she attains the age of 60 years, there is no such clear indicator available to the individual.

For every person, there is a turning point after which he or she feels physiologically or functionally “old”. This event could take place before or after the age of 60. Unfortunately, in India, there is almost no formal awareness program- even at higher level institutions or organizations- for people to prepare for old age.

For the vast majority of people, old age sets in quietly, but suddenly and few people are prepared to deal with its issues. Most people living busy lives during the young and middle age periods may prefer to turn away from and not consider the possible realities of their own impending old age.

It has been said that” We start dying the day we are born”. The aging process is synonymous with failing health. While death in young people such as in India is mainly due to infectious diseases, older people are mostly vulnerable to non-communicable diseases. Failing health due to advancing age is complicated by non- availability of good quality, age- sensitive, health care for a large proportion of older persons in the country. In addition, poor accessibility and reach, lack of information and knowledge and high costs of disease management make reasonable elder care beyond the reach of older persons, especially those poor and disadvantaged.

To address the issue of failing health, it is of prime importance that good quality health care be made available and accessible to the elderly in age- sensitive manner. Health services should address preventive measures keeping in mind the diseases that affect the communities of a particular region.

In addition, effective care and support is required for those elderly suffering from various diseases through primary, secondary and tertiary health care systems. The cost of health has to be addressed so that no person is denied necessary health care for financial reasons. Rehabilitation, community or home- based disability support and end-of-life care should also be provided where needed, in a holistic manner, to effectively address the issue of failing health among the elderly.

The problem of economic insecurity is faced by the elderly when they are unable to sustain themselves financially. Many older persons either lack the opportunity or the capacity to be as productive as they were. Increasing competition, chronic malnutrition and slowing physical and mental faculties, limited access to resources and lack of awareness of their rights and entitlements play significant roles in reducing the ability of the elderly to remain financially productive and thereby, independent.

Economic insecurity is as relevant for the elderly as it is for those of any other age group like the youth of today. Those who are unable to generate an adequate income should be facilitated to do so. As far as possible, elderly who are capable, should be encouraged and if necessary, supported to be engaged in some economically productive manner. Others who are incapable of supporting themselves should be provided with partial or full social welfare grants that at least provide for their basic needs. Families and communities may be encouraged to support the elderly living with them through counseling and local self- governance.

Isolation or a deep sense of loneliness is a common complaint of many elderly. There a few who impose it on themselves, isolation is most often imposed purposefully or inadvertently by the families and communities where the elderly live. Isolation is a terrible feeling that, if not addressed, leads to tragic deterioration of the quality of life.

It is important that the elderly feel included in the daily affairs around them, both in the family as well as in the society. Those involved in elder care, especially NGOs in the field, can play a significant role in facilitating this through counseling of the individual, of families, sensitization of community leaders and group awareness or group counseling sessions. Activities centered on older persons that involve their time and skills help to inculcate a feeling of inclusion. Some of these could also be directly useful for the families and the communities.

The elderly are highly vulnerable to abuse, where a person is willfully or inadvertently harmed, usually by someone who is part of the family or otherwise close to the victim. It is very important that steps be taken, whenever and wherever possible, to protect people from abuse. Being relatively weak, elderly are vulnerable to physical abuse. Their resources, including finances, are often misused. In addition, the elderly may suffer from emotional and mental abuse for various reasons and in different ways.

The best form of protection from abuse is to prevent it. This should be carried out through awareness generation in families and in the communities. In most cases, abuse is carried out as a result of some frustration and the felt need to inflict pain and misery on others. It is also done to emphasize authority. Information and education of groups of people from younger generations is necessary to help prevent abuse. The elderly should also be made aware of their rights in this regard.

The problem of not being prepared for old age can only be prevented. Awareness generation through the work place is a good beginning in preparing employees to face retirement and facing old age issues. For those who have unregulated occupations and for those who are self-sufficient employed, including farmers, awareness can be generated through the media and also through government offices and by NGOs in the long run. Older people who have faced and addressed these issues can be recruited to address groups at various forms to help people prepare for or cope with old age.

Moreover, religious scholars can play a good role in this regard. They can advise the young people and the adults to be compassionate toward the old. They should be understood rather than neglected. Their necessities are like those of the newly- born children.

KV Network

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