October 1, 2018
“It is a mortal sin to discard the eldelry” - Pope Francis
As I read the above quote, I ponder very frequently where would I be and where would I reach, if I would not have my grandparents. I with full conscience solely credit my grandparents for the virtues, values and beliefs that they have imbibed in me. With due respect, love and care to all the elderly, I was inspired to take my PhD research on them. Hence would like to share few of my findings on the quality of life of the elderly.
Every year October 1 is celebrated as the international day for elderly. The 2018 theme of United Nations International Day for Older Persons (UNIDOP) is “Celebrating Older Human Rights Champion”. We see and hear human rights violations throughout the world, like increasing number of refugees, impact of climate change, and attack on journalists. The vulnerable populations such as children and elderly are not spared either. The UN 2011 states that around the world, older persons are at the risk of poverty, discrimination and violence and that they typically lack services and measures designed for them. This can in turn influence elder people’s mental status such as self-esteem and quality of life.
In 2017, it was estimated that there are about 962 million people aged 60 or over in the world, comprising 13 per cent of the global population. The population aged 60 or above is growing at a rate of about 3 per cent per year. In India, people above 60 years of age are considered to be elderly. The percentage of elderly people is expected to go up in India from 8% in 2015 to 19 % in 2050. The country now faces the major challenge of how to take care of such a large population of senior citizens – whose number is set to grow three-fold from around 100 million at present to 300 million by 2050.
Quality of life is the general well-being of individuals and societies, outlining negative and positive features of life. In elderly, quality of life can be explained in terms of objective quality of life and subjective quality of life. Objective quality of life is high in those cases where income is high, health is good, social networks are large and reliable. Subjective quality of life emphasizes an individual’s perceptions and evaluations. Subjective quality of life is defined as high life satisfaction, strong positive emotions like happiness and low negative emotions like sadness.
An elderly person's quality of life is defined, first and foremost, by the respect they have for themselves, something over which they have power, and secondly, by the respect the outside world shows them. Elderly who are active, well groomed, eat and sleep wisely, do not seek to isolate themselves at home or in nursing homes. Those who continue to cultivate their minds and pass on their life experiences enjoy a superior quality of life.
Researching on the quality of life in the elderly has become extremely important due to the longevity brought to human life. Living longer may result in a life marked with dependence and disabilities. The epidemiologic changes resulting from this demographic transition have led to a greater prevalence of chronic degenerative conditions, with sequel and complications, producing impairments, dependence, and the need for long-term care. The aging process is heterogeneous, frequently leading to two extreme situations, i.e., an excellent quality of life or a very bad quality of life; many intermediate possibilities can be found between these extremes.
Moreover, in this stage of life, various conditions, such as retirement, widowhood, loss of social roles, social support net-work reduction, loneliness, and lack of personal life significance, can create obstacles to a better quality of life (Paschoal et al, 2007).
Earlier studies have shown elders living in family set up have higher quality of life compared to their counterparts, the overall well-being was significantly affected for those who were singles (unmarried and widowed). Quality of life was higher in males than females. Married had better quality of life than divorced and widows/widowers. Further divorced had good quality of life compared to widows/widowers.
An critical evaluation of the studies done on widowhood and quality of life reveals that both male and female elderly with spouses alive preferred staying with their sons but widows and widowers preferred living with daughters.
My research on elderly focused two districts of Karnataka, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi consisting of 240 elderly. The sample comprised of elderly living in family set up, old age homes, elderly with spouses alive, widowers and widows. Results revealed Quality of life was higher among Institutionalized Elderly compared to Non institutionalized Elderly. Elderly male were more social then elderly females. Elderly women especially living with their partner in old age homes showed higher quality of life compared to elderly women living in the family set up. Same results were applicable for widows. Elderly Men with their Spouse Alive had better Social quality of life compared to Widowers. Elderly Widowers showed higher Social quality of life compared to Widows. Elderly Men with Spouse Alive had higher Social life skills compared to Elderly Women with Spouse Alive.
It’s not very surprising to get such results since many elderly couple prefers staying in old homes rather than being at home alone, concerning their health and physical care and also they can be soft targets for crime. In spite of all this awareness among family members and care takers needs to be created regarding the various problems associated with elderly and to deal effectively with them. Recommendations can be made both to Government and Non-government organizations regarding the necessity of appointing Counselors and Psychologists to enhance the overall wellbeing of the Elderly.
Few techniques which help improve quality of life of an elderly is by providing more social support, involving them in hobby clubs and leisure activities, providing physically safer environment and keeping them physically fit, even with very mild physical activities. Make them feel their importance in your life, let them be connected with family, friends and community, don’t regard them as a burden rather respect and understand them. Also it’s very necessary to keep their minds active by solving puzzles, reading, writing, memory games which improves overall well-being.
I would like to end the article by requesting youngsters to take more research studies and create awareness of rendering care and service to the deserved elderly.