India: No country for old men

It takes but a look at a dining table setup in a modern household to gauge that the figure of the “head of the family” has shifted from the traditional eldest in the family. While medicine has leapfrogged since Independence, increasing life expectancy to as high as 65 years, the economic productivity of most of these elders stops at 58 or 60 courtesy retirement. Add to that the fact that the elderly, victims to their own age and often ridden by diseases, do not participate productively in the running of the household and it begins to come clear how exactly the eldest one has been not only replaced from his rightful chair at the centre of the table, but cast away to a corner of the house, or at times even worse.

India will soon be home to the second largest number of elderly people in the world. Over 75 million citizens above the age of 60, a majority of who live without receiving pensions or never see their pension money reach them through the family vine, live in the houses they erected with families they raised, treated as liabilities. Even realistically, in nuclear working families of the current day taking care of the elderly becomes a full time logistics issue even for the most dedicated caretakers.

Therefore, old age shelters, Devised in our forerunners of this problem, the west are mushrooming in our country too in virtually all big cities, for better or for worse. There are 728 old age homes in India today, of which 325 are for free, 95 are paid, 278 are for the sick and 101 exclusively for women. Here the elderly, either forced out of their houses or having walked out of them in lieu of peace,  dignity and fellow companionship live amongst a family of strangers, taken care of by strangers.

Most of the old age homes are put together with the idea of functionally containing rather than really comforting the elderly population. As it works, they are often undermanned and lacking in facilities, in need of as much assistance as they can get.

India will soon be home to the second largest number of elderly people in the world.

Here are some ways to help out:

1) Donate : The easiest and most obvious way is to donate stuff to the old age home itself. However, instead of going with generic items of donation like clothes, it would be a better idea to speak to the staff at the home and figure out what they’d really find useful and get that. Books, blankets and mosquito nets are however amongst the evergreen options.

2) Help with your profession: For doctors and teachers especially, this is a very good option to help out with your skills. Free regular medical check ups and medicines are something the elderly can always use, and what age is there, really, to stop learning.

3) Offer companionship: Insecurity and loneliness are everyday realities for people in the old age homes. The elderly here, often abandoned by their near and dear ones, appreciate more than one can put into words a fun and interactive day spent with a visitor. Sit with them, talk with them, play games with them : they will appreciate it more than can be put into words.

Monetary donations, of course, for those of us who are able, enable the home directly to procure what would be the best for their guests. Otherwise, for those of us who believe in the personal touch, the ideas cited above help, as do other personalised ideas.

The thing to remember is that the elderly here need dignity and respect more than they will ever need the material we help with. Any assistance offered with that in mind will go a long way into getting these veterans what they deserve.

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