Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Aging is an unstoppable process while dying is a natural culmination of aging. In many countries there is a retirement age, generally 60 years after which the person enters the "senior citizen " category. To soften the shock of retirement many governments roll out welfare schemes and many senior citizen friendly policies which are supposed to make the life some what less "miserable"! The real crunch of old age comes beyond the age of 70-75 years when various faculties start declining rapidly while mental agility is affected by gradual lose of cognitive ability. Help and assistance can make the misery of old age less daunting and children of senior citizens are supposed to provide physical and mental solace to their old age parents. Unfortunately in these "dog eating dog" days, many children forget the sacrifices made by their parents and look out for old age homes to "push" them for ensuring their own pleasure and comfort. 

imagine the conditions of 100 million people in India who are considered old with most of them left to fend for themselves without any assistance because of many reasons, some genuine while most of them due to sheer callousness and selfish nature of their children. Added to this there are many parents unwilling to be considered dependents of their children either due to extra ordinary affection for their off springs or high sense of self respect choosing a life of misery. Besides there are many old people suffering from diseases like CVD, cancer, BP, kidney problems etc who need constant and committed care and it is very difficult for their children, even if they love them, to provide such services without sacrificing their own career and endangering their future. Though children have a "duty" to take care of their old age parents, Society also must bear some responsibility and it is the Government that can do maximum through institutional arrangements of good quality. Private players can lessen the burden of the government through setting up elderly friendly retirement homes for well to do people.

NGOs, many of which do excellent social work, are doing yeomen service to the community through setting up old age homes and operating them satisfactorily in many parts of the country. Due to the enormity of the logistics involved, these voluntary agencies are not able to make any dent on this vexed problem. There are some private players in the field offering some what better quality live-in places for senior people charging heavily and those who have regular pension income of substantial sums or with good financial resources can only afford such places. Some people, seeing the writing on the wall vis-a-vis the fate of old age people in the society, provide for them selves through investments while they are still earning, to ensure comfortable and livable places offered by private builders. Of course with the real estate sector, being what it is to day, there is no guarantee that these people would not be left high and dry at old age by unscrupulous builders. There are no legal frame work that will ensure justice for such people.

Old age is cruel because of another reason. Food and nutrition needs are different as people go through the biological process of aging and it is rarely that old age residential facilities as they operate to day have any health or nutrition experts providing the required inputs to food preparations and their recipes. Particularly troubling are the failing eye sight, failing hearing faculty and decreasing appetite combined with declining taste buds. Design of old age homes requires lot of special considerations as the facilities should have adequate scope for entertainment, activities that can give mental and physical stimulation, walking area with minimum vulnerability to bone fracture, services of qualified physicians and many other features to make the life free from worries and tension normally associated with active life. Probably established hospitals should consider establishing such homes for old people in proximity to their existing facilities and government must provide adequate "motivating" incentives for major hospitals to create such "centers of excellence" for comfortable living of old age population, especially those affected by various ailments requiring medical attention.

Recent reports from some of the wealthy countries where prevalence of old age homes is a boon to the citizens indicate that there are gross deficiencies in their services. After unannounced visits to 100 NHS hospitals in UK by an empowered group, called Care Quality Commission, it was found that fewer than half of them feed old people properly or treat them with compassion and dignity. According to this report one out of three hospitals inspected needed to make significant improvements in one or both areas. One in five were so bad they were actually breaking the law in their treatment of the elderly.  Of course there are also excellent hospitals, few in number with highly motivated nurses, ancillary staff and doctors with some of them professionally caring and deeply committed with personal kindness.
While this is the case with hospitals, what about old age homes? Probably they could be worse than these care centers. One of the reasons for this sorry state of affairs could be because of the government bureaucracy that pervades all public institutions world over. The old age homes run by the government are a shame on the society with over crowding, starvation diet and unkind attitude and behavior of the staff being their hall mark!  


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