October 1 : International Day of Older Persons

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.

by Dr Eugene D’Souza, Mumbai
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Comment on this article


    Tue, Oct 06 2009

    Again a fantastic piece comes from Dr. Eugene D'souza. He has given vivid description and information about the elderly people including the problems faced by them. It is a duty of younger generation like me to give confidance to them and make use of the wisdom of Elderly people who, in the words of Dr. Eugene D'souza form-" A Door to the past and Window to Future". I enjoy the various articles on Daijiworld.com and especially written by Dr. Eugene. I request both of you to keep on providing such thought provoking write ups for readers like me.

  • Subhash Bakshi, Delhi

    Sun, Oct 04 2009

    Old age Homes in the present form are not the solution to the problem. Most of the Old Homes I visited appear to be the Waiting Rooms for the death.Lets strive to make the last phase of life of our veterans a pleasant and blissful experience rather than imposing the philosophy and religious rituals. Let them live the way they want. Lets use their experience and establish a mentors Bank to guide the youth

  • Ashraf Habibi, GANGULI/DAMMAM

    Sat, Oct 03 2009

    "Old Age Home" is not the solution. Parents definitely want to stay with their children & grand children...Kindness to one's parents is the important duty one has to fulfil

  • Rajeshwar, New Delhi

    Thu, Oct 01 2009

    Just a small correction. HelpAge India is not a govt. orgn., but a national charity. The current "problem" is that the values and ethics our parents and we might have inherited have not been passed on their entirety to the next gen. leading to a materialistic attitude where the parents are ladders and once you reach the top, the ladder has no value. Just to mention more than 90% of the elderly in India have no adequate social security measure since most landed in unorganised sector and in the future too this is going to increase if the current generation is not going to invest for their old age, most organisation have no post-retirement plans for their employees. In an experiment of HelpAge India we have shown that elders have to and can help themselves and their peers - it is called the Elders for Elders Movement and was taken up with the Tsunami affected elders. Now 7000 elders in 405 groups and their federations are less dependent on government doles and are bankable and have support. You would like what you see on http://www.eldersforelders.org

  • shahnawaz kukkikatte, dubai/udupi

    Thu, Oct 01 2009

    Please October 2 as non violence day (Gandhi's birthday). Lets promote non violence, truth, sincerity. Lets respect not only our aged parents, but all aged people and living beings around us. Lets pass on this message to our next generation. We cant ignore aged people. They rightfully desreve a respected place in civilized society. Ageing is a natural process, average living being has to go through before he meets his death. This process starts from the day one is born and ends the day one dies. I remember a kannada poem, "hosa chiguru, hale beru koodiralu mara sobagu, hosa yukti hale tatva dodaguoode dharma". The future generation depends on the duties and responsibilities of present generation and its a continued process passed on from generations to generations. Islam prohibits from sending the aged parents to old age homes as it is the basic responsibility of children to look after and take care of ones parents. When we are small and young we are under the care and custody of our parents and when they get old they come under the care and custody of their children. We have to show them love, mercy and respect as they have given us love and mercy when we were young. In Quran Allah says, "Your Lord has decreed you worship none but Him and be kind to your parents, If one among them reaches oldage, dont reject them, dont even tell them ooph, show them mercy and pray to your God, Oh Allah show them mercy the way they have shown us mercy when we were young.

  • Ronald D, Udupi

    Thu, Oct 01 2009

    International Older People day article reminds us about our social responsibility towards aged people, and also a thought for our ageing days.

  • Zubair(federal Ex)Dubai, Bhatkal/Dubai

    Thu, Oct 01 2009

    I congratulate Daijiworld and Dr. Eugene D'Souza for timely publication of this article on International Day for Older Persons which falls on 1st October.

  • Molly Miranda, Kulshekar/Mangalore

    Thu, Oct 01 2009

    Being a responsible citizen it is the duty of individual to plan for his future.So far we were neglecting ourselves and only thinking about the future of our children.Once they r educated let them build their future ofcourse under parents guidance.Meanwhile let the parents keep aside little savings so that in near future they can fulfill their needs as per their capacity or any old age home NGOs will come to their rescue.But in Mangalore most of of the senior citizens are not prepared for the above situation. staying away from their house ,leaving children most of them cant even dream.Let us prepare ourselves for the worst condition nowitself.

  • naushad, dubai

    Thu, Oct 01 2009

    "Every soul shall have a taste of death: and only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved far from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have attained the object (of Life): for the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception."

  • Antony Crasta, Mangalore/Sydney Australia

    Thu, Oct 01 2009

    Thank you Dr. Eugene for the interesting article, highlighting some of the problems that are being faced by the older persons today. The older persons, or the Senior Citizens, as they call them in some countries, have done their time and duty to their families, and to the country at large, in all those long years, which should be fully recognized, and they deserve to be looked after well with due respect and comfort in their evening hours, either by their children and/or immediate relatives, and also by the Government by way of pension, etc., in case they are not in a position to do so themselves.

    The article also is quite useful to the older persons in that it deals with how they could fruitfully spend their time either engaging themselves in some physical activity like Yoga, or social and voluntary work, or looking after and bringing up their grandchildren etc. It also covers useful information in regard to finding a proper old age home,where they can find a proper shelter and a homelike atmosphere.

  • John Pereira, Kulshekar,M'lore/Ghatkopar,Mumbai

    Thu, Oct 01 2009

    I congratulate Daijiworld and Dr. Eugene D'Souza for timely publication of this article on International Day for Older Persons which falls on 1st October. Indeed, this effort helps to bring about awareness among the readers. It is human tendency among the young or even middle-aged not to think about how they will cope up with their life during their old age including the ailments associated with it. I hope the younger generation start thinking and planning for their retirement with the awareness created by this article as it has been rightly mentioned at the end of this write-up.

    However, those elderly people who have virtually become destitutes partly due to their follies of not ensuring to make a provision during their twilight years and partly due to the neglect of their selfish children Also, if the elderly people have not brought up their children responsibly, such children are bound to neglect them now. To make matters worse, they are afflicted with illnesses which are further aggravated without proper nutrition and medical treatment as this may not be possible due to lack of resources at their disposal.

    This is where the NGO's who run old age homes and Government agencies such as HelpAge can come to the aid of these eldely people so that they can continue to live a dignified life and die a dignified death. Mother Teresa's sisters of Charity and other similar organisations must be complimented for helping the destitutes who are left helpless on the streets, to die .

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