Oct 1, 2009
Since the turn of this century a demographic revolution is silently taking place throughout the world. It is estimated that presently there are around 600 million persons aged 60 years and over all over the world. This figure may double by 2025 and will reach virtually two billion by 2050. Out of these, a vast majority of the older persons will be in the developing world. According to an estimate of the United Nations Organization (UNO), presently one out of every 10 persons is 60 years or older. By the year 2050, this ratio will be one out of five and by 2150, it will be one out of three persons.
Realizing the necessity of spreading awareness regarding the problems related to the ageing population, The General Assembly of UNO designated 1 October every year as the International Day of Older Persons through a resolution 45/106 of 14th December 1990. The International Day of Older Persons was observed for the first time throughout the world on 1st October 1991. Later, this day came to be observed in many countries and organizations. By designating a special day for the senior citizens, the General Assembly of UNO recognized the importance of older adults and their contributions to the development of human society. This day is dedicated to honour, respect and care for the elderly people of the world. This event also draws attention to the emergence of a new demographic phenomenon.
It is important for the Older Persons that they should be able to enjoy their remaining life in their own families and communities. They should have a life of fulfilment, health, security and contentment, and be appreciated as an integral part of the society.
UNO has approved Eighteen Principles for the well being of Older Persons which are organized into five clusters, namely, Independence, Participation, Care, Self-fulfilment and Dignity.
In Indian context the older population has been rapidly increasing. It is said that while it took France 120 years for the population of the elderly to double, it took India just 25 years to achieve this phenomenon. India’s elderly population increased from 12 million in 1901 to 19 million in 1951 and 77 million in 2001. According to an estimate by 2021, India’s elderly population will cross 137 million. Presently India has the second largest aged population in the world.
The reason for the gradual increase in the aging population is not hard to find. There has been a gradual reduction in birth rate causing a decline in the proportion of the young in the population. On the other hand there is also a gradual decrease in mortality rate arising from a longer life span for individuals and improvements in public health and medical services leading to control of infectious diseases. UNO defines a country as ‘ageing’ where the proportion of people over 60 reaches seven per cent. It is important to note that India has already exceeded this and is likely to reach 12.6 per cent by 2025.
India faces serious socio-economic challenges due to the successively increasing aged population. In India, life for many older people is less than happy. When young people after competing their education leave their villages for the towns and cities, the old are left to fend for themselves. This is a fact in former Dakshina Kannada district where there are many elderly people living by themselves.
In Western and industrially advanced countries, pension schemes and social security system of the governments cover the economic needs of the old. However, in India the situation is quite different. Nearly 90 per cent of the total workforce in India is employed in the informal sector. Thus, social security offered by pension schemes is available to only 10 per cent of the working population retiring from the organised sector.
Many of the older persons who do not have any social security such as pension have to depend on the earning of their children for their sustenance and medical expenses. The condition of the illiterate and poverty stricken older persons cannot be imagined.
Though the government gives old age pension to destitute persons above the age of 65 years, the meagre amount is hardly sufficient to meet the bare necessities of an elderly person. According to a study by HelpAge India, only one in five of those eligible receives the benefit. Being illiterate and poor, many are not able to fill in the relevant forms or produce age certificates.
Besides ageing process, older persons suffer from ageing-associated diseases. Ageing-associated diseases are not same as the ageing process. It is common factor that all adult animals including human beings undergo the ageing process, but not all adult animals including human beings suffer from all ageing-associated diseases. The ageing-associated diseases are arthritis, cataract, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer. It is a fact that the incidence of all of these diseases increases rapidly with ageing.
For many people old age has become a curse rather than an age of contentment and of fulfilment. Older people are marginalized and in many cases have been portrayed as the burden on the society. There are instances of well off children disowning their parents or dumping them in old age homes where they are left to live a life of depression and deprivation. There are also examples of older parents being shunted from one son or daughter to the other for taking care. In larger cities like Mumbai, elderly persons living independently have become victims of robbery and even being murdered for valuables or to grab their dwellings.
It is important to remember that older people contribute significantly to society. Many elderly people continue working in voluntary capacity or for some amount of remuneration. In families they take care of grand children enabling their sons and daughters to go to work and thus play an active part in community and family life. Older people are like ‘Doors to the past and windows to the future’. The knowledge and experience of older people is like a vast reservoir of resources which could be used for the betterment of the society.
The government of India is quite serious about meeting the challenges of an ageing population. India is committed to the basic principles of the International Plan of Action on Ageing which includes- financial security, health care, shelter and protection against abuse and exploitation. However, the Ministry of Social Welfare at the central government finds the responsibility of meeting the needs of the ever increasing ageing population a herculean task.
The government provides grants in aid to over 500 Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) for providing services to the aged population like old age homes, day care centres and mobile medical units. The government has also taken measures to grant special facilities to old people including railway and airfare concessions, priority in telephone connections and hospital appointments.
Older people have the right to basic age care facilities such as pensions, social security, health care, safety and security, transportation and mobility. HelpAge India is the leading advocate for Older People’s rights. HelpAge India is an important secular non-profit organization that has been working for the betterment of India’s elderly population. It was set up in 1978 for raising resources to protect the rights of India’s ageing population by providing relief through various interventions. HelpAge India lobbies with the national and local governments to bring about policy that is beneficial to the elderly; it makes the people aware of the concerns of the aged and promote better understanding of ageing issues; and make the elderly people become aware of their own rights so that they get their due and are able to play an important role in society.
HelpAge India’s Chief Executive represents the organisation on the National Planning Commission. HelpAge has actively participated in discussions for formulating the Union Ministry recommendations on the Plan document to the National Planning Commission. HelpAge is also a member of the National Council of Older Persons.
HelpAge India touches the lives of around 15 lakh elderly people through its services every year to provide them with a better quality of life. Every year, HelpAge India supports grass root NGOs across the country working for the welfare of the aged. It contributes in terms of finance and provides technical support to the grass root NGOs. The HelpAge India programme officers identify credible NGOs wanting to work in the field of age care. Proposals are scrutinised carefully before being accepted, and programmes are monitored on a regular basis.
HelpAge India relies on external support to help the elderly live with dignity. It depends on donations to fund its services and activities. Resources are raised from individual donors, corporate and business houses. For those old people who are unable to stay with their families or destitute, there are old age homes. A number of states such as Delhi, Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka and West Bengal have developed good quality old age homes. These old age homes have special medical facilities for senior citizens such as mobile health care systems, ambulances, nurses and provision of well-balanced meals.
There are more than a thousand old age homes in India. Most of them offer free accommodation to those elderly people who cannot afford to pay. Some homes work on a payment basis depending on the type and quality of services offered. Apart from food, shelter and medical amenities, old age homes also provide yoga classes to senior citizens. Old age homes also provide access to telephones and other forms of communication so that residents may keep in touch with their loved ones. Some old age homes have day care centres. These centres only take care of senior citizens during the day.
For older people who have nowhere to go and no one to support them, old age homes provide a safe shelter. These homes also create a family like atmosphere among the residents. Senior citizens experience a sense of security and friendship when they share their joys and sorrows with each other.
The Old Age Homes in Mangalore are: St. Antony’s Old Age Home, Mangalore, Little Sister’s Old Age Home, Mangalore and St. Mary’s Home for the Aged, Katipalla, Suratkal.
The International Year of Older Persons provides an opportunity to gain a better understanding about what older people have to offer, the challenges they face and how they can be addressed. This is also an opportunity for the middle aged and younger generation to plan their own old age.