India's Elderly in Distress, Intervention Needed, NGO Tells Centre

The number of elderly people in the country is estimated to treble by 2050 according to a study by an NGO, which is urging the Centre to focus on the elderly in their policies.

A vast majority of the elderly in the country are in great distress at an age when they are most dependent on others for support. Agewell Foundation, an NGO, conducted a study across the country that revealed that about 71% of them suffer from health related problems, 65% from financial distress, 63% from social problems and 43% from psychological issues like loneliness and marginalisation. The NGO has urged the Centre to step in by focussing on the elderly in all their schemes.

In its report, which has been prepared after surveying nearly 50,000 people through its network of volunteers, the foundation has also urged the Centre to provide the growing elderly population support by setting up necessary institutes and setting aside funds specially for them.

Living conditions of the elderly have not improved in 15 years

The Delhi-based organisation had earlier in June come out with a report on the changing needs and rights of older people in India, in association with the Economic and Social Council at the UN, which stated that living conditions of the elderly in India have not improved in the last 15 years.

That report was based on interviews with nearly 15,000 elderly people across 300 districts of 25 states and union territories in India. It had noted that “approximately 59% respondents said that social status of older people in Delhi-NCR has deteriorated during the past 15 years. Over 47% elderly said that healthcare status of older people has not improved at all during the past 15 years. Over 36% elderly stated that financial status of older people has not improved during last 15 years.”

This time, the NGO has expanded the study to reach out to nearly 50,000 people in order to learn what really needs to be done to improve their lot. As foundation chairman Himanshu Rath said, “Today there is an urgent need to include elderly friendly provisions in all governmental schemes and programs because their life span and their share in national population has increased remarkably. Ignoring their needs and rights and leaving them unaddressed can pose a great threat to our social development agenda.”

Rath said it was essential to “bring the older persons into the mainstream by focusing on their issues and encouraging their active participation in the society”. Urgent intervention is needed because the number of the elderly is expected to grow exponentially.

Number of old to treble to 300 million by 2050

The issue assumes significance as the percentage of elderly people, classified as those above 60 years of age, is expected to go up from 8% in 2015 to 19% in 2050 in India. According to a United Nations Population Fund report, the country now faces the major challenge of how to take care of such a large population of senior citizens – whose number is set to grow three-fold from around 100 million at present to 300 million by 2050.

“Modern value system is replacing our centuries-old traditions. In a modern, fast paced lifestyle, not only are older people are finding is tough to adjust themselves with emerging trends, but even the younger generation finds it tricky to deal with issues concerning their elders,” said Rath.

The study also revealed that for a large number of elderly people, getting involved in legal battles becomes quite bothersome. It found that 32% older persons involved in legal cases pertaining to their property and financial assets. This apart, around 18% older persons were found to be living in extreme poverty and in inhuman conditions.

Elderly suffer from neglect, abuse

Neglect was also a major problem for most of the elderly, with over 45% stating that their family members did not care for their needs and interests. In fact, a past study by the foundation in 2014, had also highlighted how many elderly were subjected to physical abuse by their children and grandchildren.

In view of the latest findings, the NGO has demanded that all government schemes should focus on the needs of the older persons as their population was growing rapidly. It has also called for making provisions to provide free health counsellors for the elderly living alone as well as providing space for the elderly in every locality and colony to enable them to form self-help groups.

At an institutional level, the government has been urged to establish national institute for aged on the lines of AIIMS for treatment and research in age related ailments, set up a national fund for the aged on the lines of National Fund for Rural Development, and to set up a national commission for the aged, on the lines of National Human Rights Commission, to protect their interests.