Senior citizens on International Day of Older Persons 2020: Anxious, abandoned & ailing

A closer look at age and ageing

Society

October 1, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Senior citizens on International Day of Older Persons 2020: Anxious, abandoned & ailing

India alone has 104 million elderly persons; 53 million females and 51 million males as per Census 2011 (MIG Photos/Richa Nigam)

October 1 marks the 30th Anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP). The Covid19 pandemic and lockdown has increased anxiety, abandonment and health risks among the senior citizens.

“Most of the older persons here have lost their sense of general awareness and don’t understand what the pandemic is all about. Since it is difficult to make them understand the risks involved and how to take precautions to keep themselves safe, we have no option but to keep them locked within our old age home for as long as possible to eliminate the risk of infections, as they are the most vulnerable groups,” says GP Bhagat, founder of Guru Vishram Vridh Ashram, an old age home, located at Gautampuri in south Delhi.

Globally, there were 703 million persons aged 65 and above in 2019. The region of Eastern and South-Eastern Asia was home to the largest number of older persons (261 million), followed by Europe and Northern America (over 200 million), according to data from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

India alone has 104 million elderly persons; 53 million females and 51 million males as per Census 2011. A report released by the United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge India suggests that this is expected to rise 70 pc to 173 million by 2026.

Bhagat says the older people have long been the most vulnerable age group of the population as they have the highest rate of illiteracy, physical ailments and emotional and physical abuses. The percent of literates among elderly persons increased from 27 pc in 1991 to 44 pc in 2011. The literacy rates among elderly females (28 pc) is less than half of the literacy rate among elderly males (59 pc). This makes them unaware of the challenges of society today and dependent on people around them for even basic information or any administrative work.

GP Bhagat says that most of the older persons have lost their sense of general awareness and don’t understand what the pandemic is all about (MIG Photos/Richa Nigam)

The challenges for the elderly only begin with illiteracy. They are also financially very vulnerable.“As most of the old people retire or become unemployable due to various reasons by the age of 60, they depend on their children and other family members for basic needs like food, shelter and medical attention. As they stop being an earning member of the family, relatives often abandon them considering them a burden or liability,” says Bhagat.

As the Covid19 has hit the Indian economy severely and millions of household have suffered financially, the senior citizens have been at the receiving end as often their families abandon them since they are no longer able to take care of them, even for basic needs like food and clothes. This may have led to a spike in cases, though exact data on the number of elderly persons abandoned in the country during the pandemic is yet to be collated. However, NGOs like the Old Age Home of Bhagat are finding more such cases.

“Our organisation brings old people being left unattended at hospitals, railway stations and even on roads. We are also contacted by friends and family members of the old persons who are unable to take care of them. Since the onset of the pandemic, the number of calls for admitting old people in our old age home increased manifold. There was also an unprecedented increase in the number of old people, we found, being abandoned by their families. Most of who had some symptoms similar to that of Covid19 and were hence thrown out of their houses,” he adds.

But even once they have found shelter at old age homes, the problems for the elderly don’t end. In the absence of life with their families, their social contact was limited to their outings in the parks near-by. But the pandemic has put an end to even that practice of them going outside the old age homes for walks. This is taking a toll on their mental health. “We have stopped taking them out in the parks or on roads as most of them are very ill and weak physically, putting them at high risks of catching the deadly infection. We also make sure that all our staff members like nurses, cooks and helpers stay in the premises of the old age only,” he says.

Health Ministry of India has stated that about 10 pc of India’s population is more than 60 years of age and accounts for 53 per cent of the total COVID-19 linked deaths in the country. The number adds upto 53 thousand approximately.

Even without the pandemic, general health of the elderly persons in India is very poor (MIG Photos/Richa Nigam)

However, Bhagat suspects that the number of old people affected by the pandemic is more than the reported cases and causalities. “Even though the rate of abandonment has increased to almost twice these days, we had to make sure that we only admit those whose family members could provide us with a COVID-negative test report. COVID tests for all those abandoned couldn’t be arranged. In absence of any support from the government, we had no other option but to prefer the health and protection of those already living with us over those who were recently abandoned and needed help,” says Bhagat.

Even without the pandemic, general health of the elderly persons in India is very poor, with many of them afflicted with multiple diseases such as hyper or hypotension and diabetes. The rates of disabilities are also significantly higher than the national averages. Most common disability among the aged persons in India is locomotor disability and visual disability as per the latest census. Unfortunately, there is no government data available about the mental health of the senior citizens in the country which is a cause of concern for Bhagat.

He says “Though organisations like ours take care of the physical well-being of the senior citizens, we can do little about their mental health. We try to engage them in activities like indoor games, art and craft, watching television and small celebrations, but it is not enough. Lack of data on the mental health of the elderly and lack of psychologists and caretakers adds to their misery.”

“What we need today is not to sympathise and look at them as someone in need but as equal citizens of this society who need extra care and attention from the family and the government,” Bhagat sums up.

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1 COMMENTS

  1. Avatar Harish says:

    An important piece. Well written

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