By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, October 11, 2020: The World Health Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, now very much in news due to Covid 19, has described old age as the age above 60.

According to this putative international organization, from 2015 to 2050 this category of population would have a big jump from 12% to 32%. It would go from 900 million to 2 billion. This means in next the thirty years the rise of elderly population will be felt across the world.

Further people above the age of 80 now number 125 million. It would be 435 million by 2050 out of which 120 million would be in China.

Aging population has already affected USA, Europe, Russia and Japan, and this phenomenon is also visible in India and China, the most populous countries on the earth.

While India has a young population now ,the phenomenal rise of elderly people in the country by sheer number would give rise to the unmanageable economic and social issues unless a strategy is adopted from now and not caught up with serious problem later.

First, the universal health care is one of the priorities under Sustainable Development Goal of the United Nations. It is number three goal. Secondly, WHO considers ever increasing elderly people must be the target for ensuring reaching this goal, not episodic approach. Thirdly, it recommends for an intrinsic sustainable health care system to delay, even reverse aging of people. Where it is not possible, it can assist to increase the functionality of elderly people. The aim should be to promote healthy aging.

Rapid modernization, with its irreversible effect on families giving rise to nuclear family system is not only a feature of the Western society but its fashion or model has already entered developing countries including India. This has increased alienation of elderly from the family and society.

Community approach of creating awareness with social marketing, government’s proactive interventions and empowering of the elders could be a way forward to tackle possible problem in future. Assessment of health of elderly from time to time, family intervention, and self-management are part of this strategy.

Problem of aging are accompanied by diseases like diabetes, depression, dementia, osteoarthritis, and pulmonary ailment etc. Periodic medical check can give rise to early detection. Such checks will also reveal regarding possibility of visual and audio impairment. Physical exercise to arrest muscular deterioration, supported by right type of nutrition, right medicines and psychological support from caregivers and family members would help in all round strengthening of both mind and body at that age.

There is diversity in intellectual faculty among the elders. Some elders retain remarkable memory and known for their extreme alertness. Some lose memory and develop lethargy. Often depression overtakes them. They feel unwanted, neglected and lose purpose in life.

In normal times many healthy elders travel within the country and beyond for holidays and visiting their friends, relatives and children.

Many keep themselves occupied in looking after household matters, regularly attend entertainment programme, go to cinemas, and participate in cultural events, visit shopping malls, restaurants and go no drives. Some take up new hobbies like cooking at home and painting.

Many attend seminars, workshops, give lectures, write regularly in newspapers, periodicals and make attempt to compile their memoire.

Elderly can be classified as rich, middle class, higher and lower, and poor. Rich can afford to have support services, so also upper middle class while lower middle class and poor cannot. They must depend upon family. Where the family is not in the ready proximity these hapless elders go through enormous amount of physical hardship and insecurity. For them government, non-government institutions and religious and philanthropic bodies can come to the forefront for handholding and assistance.

When the families are not there to support, the State must step in by creating old homes provide caregivers, make timely effort to establish health insurance schemes. Public health policy must address all these issues and problems.

A cadre of geriatric assistants (caregivers) should be created just as nurses. Public Health Educational Institutions should design courses for the age group of 20-25 towards this. The skill would include nursing, driving, and cooking as many elders would need multidisciplinary care givers. Those having certificate courses can be hired by the government, semi-government bodies and even private bodies for deployment at the homes of elderly or foster homes.

Those who avail their services will make appropriate payments to the institutions providing such service. There are any number of disheartening reports of abuses in foster homes. Caregivers have also resorted to unethical practices. Therefore ,a regulatory and inspection mechanism should be in place.

Salary can be determined considering market situation. Presently Rs 12,000 – 15000 per month is the going rate of drivers in Bhubaneswar. Many young drivers have come from nearby districts like Kandhamal, Angul, Nayagarh and Jagatsinghpur who have studied up to Matriculation level. They are intelligent, alert and conscious about society and knowledgeable about the State, country and the world. They might not have studied beyond the school, but they are good in technology.

Advantage is that they are smart phone savvy. Depending upon the affordability, elders can hire such caregivers on three shift, two shift and single shift basis. Caregivers would like to have their private lives, rest and leisure.

Neither elders should consider themselves as “non-performing assets” or treated as such. Some can be utilised in teaching, mentoring, consultancy with their vastness of experience in variety of fields and disciplines.

During pandemic, the advice is that they should stay at home, avoid unnecessary travel outside and avoidance of crowd etc.

Physical exercise, walking on rooftop, inside the house, and lawns, where possible in parks, yoga and meditation are very much recommended.

Healthy food should be the motto. Too much of greasy, starchy, spicy food including junk food must be avoided however much they may be palatable. Reading, writing, speaking in webinars, talking to friends and relatives, children and grandchildren, watching TV, listening to music and songs and radio are time-consuming activities highly recommended to get out of boredom and mental lethargy. TV gives news in different languages. It has variety of entertainment channels, channels on animal kingdom, science, history etc.

Whatever an elderly person chooses to do, he or she can pursue for recreation. Elderly can devote time to learn a new language, do crossword puzzle, play chess and do arithmetic. Attempt should be made by them to be tech savvy.

How can they become tech savvy, how to use their knowledge and experience, how they can teach and advise, and do mentoring are subjects which need attention at the government level?

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