International Day of Older Persons 2019: India warming up to retirement communities but country in dire need of infra, support systems for elderly

Although 1 October is being celebrated as the United Nations International Day of Older Persons every year since 1990, it is disheartening that we remain quite comfortably numb towards the special mental, physical and nutritional requirements of our senior citizens at large.

Meena Ganesh October 01, 2019 11:09:02 IST
International Day of Older Persons 2019: India warming up to retirement communities but country in dire need of infra, support systems for elderly
  • Although 1 October is being celebrated as the United Nations International Day of Older Persons every year since 1990, it is disheartening that we remain quite comfortably numb towards the special mental, physical and nutritional requirements of our senior citizens at large.

  • The UNDP theme focuses on dissolving the existing inequalities and calls upon policymakers and healthcare practitioners of nations to build proactive and innovative strategies for social protection of the elderly.

  • The senior demographic is changing rapidly and there is an urgent need to build a stable elderly care infrastructure and support system.

Ageing is life taking its natural course and an intrinsic part of a human being’s beautiful journey. Yet, our attitude towards this natural phenomenon is one of disease, as if it were something dreadful. Ageing in itself is not a problem, but the perspective with which one approaches it is. This situation is better described by the term called ageism -- coined to represent the adversities and discrimination faced by people based on age.

One of the biggest challenges that humanity now faces is that of equality — economic, social, and of opportunity, race, gender, and ethnicity — and the one that often gets missed among these is equality of age. With a large number of people crossing over into the senior citizen category, the world’s elderly population is estimated to touch 1.4 billion by the year 2030. Even as all the attention dwells on the trending millennial populace, India needs to shift focus on a looming ageing crisis.

International Day of Older Persons 2019 India warming up to retirement communities but country in dire need of infra support systems for elderly

Caring for the elderly. AFP

Although 1 October is being celebrated as the United Nations International Day of Older Persons every year since 1990, it is disheartening that we remain quite comfortably numb towards the special mental, physical and nutritional requirements of our senior citizens at large. In an effort to recognise this global concern at a justifiably juxtaposed level, the United Nations has included elderly care and empowerment as part of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The UNDP theme focuses on dissolving the existing inequalities and calls upon policymakers and healthcare practitioners of nations to build proactive and innovative strategies for social protection of the elderly.

The senior demographic is changing rapidly and there is an urgent need to build a stable elderly care infrastructure and support system. Apart from focusing on a better quality of life through the adoption of technology-based healthcare, there is also a need to aim at building a better social and support network for them. Senior citizens must be included in the larger scheme of things for a change to happen at the ground level.

Recently, the Malaysian government rolled out plans to set up a senior citizen activity centre in every parliamentary constituency in the country to encourage active ageing among Malaysians. Maybe, it is time that India takes a leaf out of such examples in encouraging similar initiatives for its senior citizens too. Communities can be set up wherein the elderly support each other through various activities, something that will also keep them gainfully engaged.

In this context, an idea that India is increasingly warming up to is that of retirement communities where seniors are secure and being with others gives a boost to their self-esteem. There is also a professional system in place to take care of them.

Sensing the tremendous gap that the 4 percent year-on-year growth in senior population is creating, healthtech start-ups are creating lifestyle and technology products and services aimed particularly towards the elderly. A shift in the outlook of the elderly that their savings are no longer needed to be bequeathed to their offspring is also a welcome change. A general sense of want for freedom among this population is also driving them to explore newer avenues that can ensure independent and dignified living.

Protecting the elderly needs to go beyond ensuring their safety and health. It is imperative that they are enabled to live with dignity, something that is yet to become a reality both at the cultural and policy level. The population of elderly can be reimagined as an economically valuable constituency which can take the country ahead with its rich experience. Many senior citizens in India even have a successful and thriving business.

For instance, LR Sridhar started Connect India, a last-mile delivery service for e-commerce at the age of 60. Drawing on a lifetime of experience, people like him are taking a second shot at the working life, gaining economic independence and fulfilment too. Another case in point is that of 77-year-old Ramesh Vij who started HUM, with his nephew.

It is India’s first online community-based job platform dedicated to finding and creating job opportunities for the seniors of society. HUM has a reach of over 5,000 senior citizens on Facebook alone and there is a huge interest from retired employees and their children who are looking for employment opportunities. Given that younger entrepreneurs seek the kind of experience that these seniors bring to the table, it can be a win-win situation for both. There is thus a need to formulate policies to retain or employ senior workers at all levels.

Apart from this, banks can consider credit schemes to help senior citizens wanting to start their own small business. Not only will the economy gain from their experience, but they will also feel empowered and respected. All this will be a step ahead in ensuring that ageing does not seem like a burden but another side of the colourful spectrum of life and every human being is able to live life to the fullest –so that every grandparent is able to pass on their stories of wisdom to their grandchildren with a wide and carefree smile and so that every one of us can age happily.

The author is MD & CEO, Portea Medical.

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