The demographic transition from the young to the aged is happening faster than anticipated. The concern must have caused a collective sigh of relief for the 87.6 million people aged above 60 in India, as it drew the attention of a nation almost obsessed with its ‘demographic dividend’ to a crucial problem. Considering India is expected to be home to 300 million elderly people by 2050, it is the time it paid heed to the problems of those who are as old, or even older than the independent nation itself is today.
Else the country will be faced with a large incidence of degenerative diseases, accompanied with serious gaps in the geriatric medical ecosystem, a changing joint family structure, the lack of ‘grey-friendliness’ in public spaces, transport, housing, and a virtually non-existing policy framework to tackle these issues.
It has been said that “we start dying the day we are born”. The ageing process is synonymous with failing health. While death in young people in countries such as India is mainly due to infectious diseases, older people are most vulnerable to non-communicable diseases. Failing health due to advancing age is complicated by non-availability to good quality, age-sensitive, health care for a large proportion of older persons in the country.
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 and/or the capacity to be as productive as they were. Increasing competition from younger people, individual, family and societal mindsets, 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.
Isolation, or a deep sense of loneliness, is a common complaint of many elderly is the feeling of being isolated. While there are a few who impose it on themselves, isolation is most often imposed purposefully or inadvertently by the families and/or communities where the elderly life. Isolation is a terrible feeling that, if not addressed, leads to tragic deterioration of the quality of life.
The elderly, especially those who are weak and/or dependent, require physical, mental and emotional care and support. When this is not provided, they suffer from neglect, a problem that occurs when a person is left uncared for and that is often linked with isolation.
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.
Many older persons live in fear. Whether rational or irrational, this is a relevant problem faced by the elderly that needs to be carefully and effectively addressed.
Boredom is a result of being poorly motivated to be useful or productive and occurs when a person is unwilling or unable to do something meaningful with his/her time. The problem occurs due to forced inactivity, withdrawal from responsibilities and lack of personal goals.
Loss of Control
This problem of older persons has many facets. While self-realization and the reality of the situation are acceptable to some, there are others for whom life becomes insecure when they begin to lose control of their resources – physical strength, body systems, finances (income), social or designated status and decision making powers.