No country for the old

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The statistics on the elderly in India is startling. There are an estimated 104 million elderly people in India, but they are largely neglected, abused, and financially dependent. HelpAge India, which works for the cause of India’s elderly, details the various measures needed to take care of this vulnerable section of our population

Today, there are an estimated 104 million elders in India. In short, India is home to one out of every 10 senior citizens of the world. By 2050, the number of senior citizens is estimated to rise to 324 million. People are living longer, the oldest old, those who are 80 plus, are estimated to reach 48 million by 2050. In fact, in the last two decades, life expectancy has increased by 20 years.

What does this mean in terms of the health and financial means of this population? In rural areas, 66% of the elderly men and 28% of the elderly women were working, while in urban areas, only 46% of elderly men and about 11% of elderly women were working. This doesn’t mask the fact that more than 71% of the oldest old (80 plus) are financially dependent on others, primarily the son. Nearly 88% of the oldest old suffer from chronic ailments – diabetes, hypertension, asthma, arthritis, heart problems etc.

Shockingly, more than 80% of the 80 plus elderly face abuse within the family. And 24% of the abuse is physical. As far as the senior citizen population is concerned, i.e., the 60 plus, there too there is roughly 50% who admitted to abuse within the family, primarily from the sons.

The Government has mandated several provisions for the elderly. At least as per the Parents & Maintenance Act (2007), there has to be an old age home in each district. In a country which has an aged population of 104 million, there are just around 300 Government-run old age homes covering 648 districts that take care of 13,000 elderly. The Government of India has allotted Rs. 200 per month as pension for only those elders below the poverty line. This is grossly inadequate. India spends only 0.032% of GDP (Gross Domestic Products) towards pensions, and covers only 25% of the eligible elder population. By contrast, a country like Thailand spends 0.324% of its GDP towards pensions, and covers 94% of the eligible elder population.

Thus, the work of non-government organisations becomes more important and credible. A case in point is HelpAge India.

The work of HelpAge India
HelpAge India voices the concerns of India’s elderly. Formed in 1978, its mission is “to work for the cause and care of disadvantaged older persons and to improve their quality of life”.

HelpAge advocates for their needs such as for universal pension, quality healthcare, action against elder abuse and many more at the national, state and societal level with Central and State governments. The aim is to serve elder needs in a holistic manner, enabling them to live active, dignified and healthier lives. HelpAge India runs a gamut of programmes that impact the lives of many needy elders.

Programmes for the aged
Mobile healthcare services: This programme seeks to provide sustainable healthcare solutions to whole communities. The core of the programme is a sponsored Mobile Healthcare Unit (MHU). This Unit provides primary healthcare to the elderly, while simultaneously using the same resources to educate and inform the community on preventive healthcare, hygiene and connect the community to government schemes of health insurance and pensions. Each MHU has a doctor, pharmacist and a social worker. Currently we have 144 Mobile Healthcare Units in 24 states, providing 2.3 million free treatments.

HelpAge India focuses on elderly health in a big way; we must ensure that our elderly are happy and content

Cataract surgeries: In India, 62% elderly suffer from cataract blindness. Credible and competent eye hospitals and organisations working for eye care are selected for carrying out surgeries with HelpAge India’s support. All surgeries under the programme are performed only in base hospitals and not in make-shift camps. Since 1980, this programme has benefitted more than nine lakh elders, not just restoring their sight but enabling them to go back to work and live a life of dignity.

Geriatric physiotherapy: Under this programme, elderly persons with musculoskeletal diseases such as back pain, arthritis and even paralysis and other age related mobility challenges are treated. The aim is to enable the elderly to support and maintain their fitness and mobility level and make daily living easier, restoring their self-confidence and self-esteem. The services are provided through stationary physiotherapy clinics, mobile services to remote communities, to residents of homes for the aged, and home visits are made by a qualified physiotherapist. Currently, there are physiotherapy clinics operational in 70 locations across the country in 23 states.

Cancer and palliative care: Cancer treatment in our country is highly priced and a majority of elders are not covered by any form of medical insurance. HelpAge India provides palliative care to end-stage cancer patients, in partnership with a number of credible and competent cancer hospitals and organisations. Over 99,000 treatments have been supported since 1998.

Support a gran: There are thousands of destitute elders who need basic support. Over the years HelpAge India has enabled more than 30,000 destitute elderly sustain themselves with regular supplies of food rations, clothing, basic healthcare and sometimes provide livelihood opportunities. Today, the programme supports needy elders supporting their day-to-day sustenance, so they can live a life of dignity.

Old age homes/day care centres: A roof over their heads is the critical need of the elder destitute, sick and abandoned by family, and uprooted by disasters. HelpAge India has established model homes for the aged in places such as Patiala and Gurdaspur in Punjab, Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu, and Kolkata in West Bengal. Besides these, HelpAge has also supported over 60 old age homes across India.

Disaster relief and rehabilitation: Every disaster impacts the elderly more than others as they have difficulty accessing relief. HelpAge India has stepped in at every major disaster, delivering specialised relief and rehabilitation measures during the floods in Assam, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar, or the Tsunami which hit Tamil Nadu, flash-floods in Uttarakhand, and earthquakes in Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir etc.

Livelihood programmes: To enhance elder capacities, HelpAge mobilises them through the formation of Elder-Self-Help-Groups (ESHGs) that are centered on sustainable methods of income generation. These ESHGs are then federated into higher level community institutions so that they gain additional robustness. This model of HelpAge India has been adopted by the Ministry of Rural Development and HelpAge has been designated as the National Resource Organisation for elderly by the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. Currently this programme covers more than 60,000 elderly across India.

Tamaraikulam Elders Village (TEV): TEV is a unique rehabilitation project situated on the Cuddalore – Puducherry road, Tamil Nadu, built by HelpAge India-NDTV viewers, after the Tsunami in 2004. A 100 elder victims of the Tsunami devastation were given a safe place to live in a modern elder village, which provides health care, professional care, livelihood options, and recreational facilities.

Elder helplines – 1800-180-1253: The HelpAge Toll-free Elder Helplines across 22 states of India offer assistance to older persons in need of emergency care and protection. The services offered are – rescue of abandoned elders, counselling those in distress, legal support, information related to services available etc. The helpline works as the co-ordination unit linking elders to various institutions such as old age homes, hospitals, geriatric specialists, police, government and non-governmental organisations. HelpAge has also launched the ‘HelpAge SOS’ App to ensure help is just a click away.

Advocacy: HelpAge India reaches 1.25 million elderly through its various interventions. Raising public awareness and interacting with media, legislators, and government to espouse the elder cause is therefore an essential and continuous activity for HelpAge India.

HelpAge each year conducts a survey on elder abuse to create awareness about the hard reality that our elders face on a daily basis. In its most recent survey across 19 cities in India, titled: How India treats its elderly, it brought out some startling facts on how elders are treated in the public space such as banks, hospitals, shops etc. (See box)

The report by HelpAge India, How India treats its elderly, has some startling facts about how we in India treat the elderly in public places:

  • 44% elders have been abused in the public space at some time or the other, that is, nearly 1 out of 2 elders.
  • 53% elders feel the Indian society discriminates against them.
  • 64% elders say it’s easy to get away, despite being rude to elders.
  • 52% elders say, if they are not dressed well it invites more rudeness.
  • 54% elders say younger people get priority in a shop over an older person.
  • 13% of elders have said that they have been treated rudely by bank staff.
  • Compared to government hospitals, in private hospitals elders get relatively better treatment due to their age.
  • Public awareness on elder issues: Building public awareness on the importance of supporting the elder cause is a key objective of HelpAge India. It invites public participation in ‘Walkathons’ on International Day of Older Persons (IDOP) on 1st October; involves the media in highlighting the evil of Elder Abuse on ‘World Elder Abuse Awareness Day’ on 15th June every year. Regular interaction and meetings are held with senior citizen associations in the cities, and elder groups in the rural areas. Common cause is found with partners working on other rights based issues such as Pension Parishad, National Association of Street Vendors of India etc.

    Working with the youth: The Student Action for Value Education (SAVE): Student Action for value Education (SAVE) aims to inculcate care and respect for the elderly through HelpAge India’s long standing programme with schools across the country. The Help Unite Generation (HUG) initiative aims at involving college students and young professionals to engage with elders and keep in regular touch with them, providing them companionship.

    Digital literacy for elders: The pace of change in technology makes it difficult for most to keep up. More so with the elders who find it almost impossible to keep up with the latest gadgets, mobile applications, new smart phones, tablets etc. To tackle this, HelpAge has started an easy ‘Digital Literacy’ programme introducing elders to the online world. Partner institutions, organisations, volunteers and interns are encouraged to conduct basic tutorials for elders, using the HelpAge Handbook for senior citizens – Computers and Smart Phones learning made easy.

    Working with Governments: Sensitising legislators in governments both in the States and Centre, has resulted in HelpAge India contributing significantly to the formulation of the National Policy on Older Persons and the enactment of the Maintenance & Welfare of the Parents and Senior Citizens Act (2007). Current ongoing advocacy efforts aim at – increase in old age pension, inclusion in health insurance and food security for elders.

    Working with Senior Citizens’ Associations: HelpAge India taps the potential of senior citizens in evolving solutions to address their needs. It is currently associated with more than 1,145 Senior Citizens’ Association with 14.75 lakh members across 20 states. Additionally, seniors are offered counseling for financial assistance schemes like the reverse mortgage scheme and assistance with wills and legacies. Senior citizens associations are mentored to engage actively with charitable work and many elders help the disadvantaged around their locality by teaching underprivileged kids, conducting free yoga classes, help in maintaining physiotherapy services etc.

    AdvantAge card programme: This benefit card offers discounts from retail associates on various products, services, and facilities ranging from health and wellness to holiday homes. It helps the card holder to stretch household budgets, especially of those elder citizens living on limited or fixed incomes. Currently there are 1.72 lakh members from over 400 towns in 23 states being offered discounts by more than 7,000 retail outlets across India.


    HelpAge India

    (Source – HelpAge India (Communications Department). The Government of India has recognised HelpAge India’s work by according donations made to it eligible for tax exemption.)

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