CHENNAI: Our apartment is almost like a senior citizen’s home,” 72-year-old Vimala smiles. True to her words, there is hardly any activity in the old apartment in T Nagar. An elderly lady slowly climbs the stairs. Outside, an old lady is guided into an auto by her husband who is unsteady himself. She takes small steps and pauses, then looks ahead as the traffic zooms around the couple.
The number of India’s elderly is growing and their population is expected to triple by 2050. A recent report by the Ministry of Statistics said the number of citizens over the age of 60 grew by 35.5%, while India’s overall population grew by 17.7%. The need to recognise ageing as a social challenge is evident — increasing instances of disorders like dementia, Alzheimer’s and falls have made life agonising for many families, particularly when the main caregiver is also elderly.
|Old age isn't necessarily a happy holiday|
Ever since Lalitha’s husband developed dementia five years ago, her life hasn’t been the same. She is 60, eight years younger than her husband. “The slow deterioration and instability is not like any other disease. Every day throws up new challenges, so each day that passes without obstacles is a relief,” she says. Suffering from joint pain and dizziness herself, she has an attendant during the day, but has to manage by herself at night. “He often wakes up at night, and has urinary and memory problems. He becomes stubborn, short-tempered, and gets disoriented, forgetting that he has eaten and demands more. It’s a nightmare!” she rues.
With psychosocial problems, going to the doctor is extremely difficult. And the low availability of specialised home healthcare affects people like Lalitha severely. “We have gone to the doctor only three times in the last five years. Usually I go and describe what is wrong with him. We do hear about home care, but have found it very difficult to get help for our condition,” she says.
The increasing number of elders who live alone points to the necessity of home services and better access and mobility, both for hospitals and daily needs. “Living alone is tough. Even if I fall sick, I have to call the doctor myself, find an auto and go by myself. Even walking to the nearby park or bank is tough,” avers Vimala. When her husband was diagnosed with a nerve disorder, she took care of him by herself.
For some, like 83-year old Vijayam, who lives alone in Besant Nagar, the community helps them get by. She gets help from neighbours and relatives to get around and relies on the neighbourhood departmental store to bring her daily needs home. But the insecurity that comes with old age is omnipresent — what would you do if you fall from the bed at night? What if your phone suddenly stops working and you need to make an emergency call? It hits some worse than others.
“I had a close friend in my apartment, who also had many age-related problems. After a point, she could not bear it and committed suicide,” recalls Vijayam, who nursed her husband through Parkinson’s Disease.
High expenditure and low pensions lead to financial dependence, which is another major problem. “During emergencies, there is no choice. Otherwise, we don’t want to be too dependent on our children day-to-day. But the cost of living has gone up so much; even to take the auto and go to the bank in my neighbourhood, I have to spend `200,” explains Vimala. “We have always travelled by bus, but now we find it difficult. We feel guilty to spend on cabs. We want to be independent for as long as possible.”
Avoid mental strain and pill-burden. Take only those pills which are necessary. Correct the rest through diet and exercise
Go for periodic checkups but test for specific problems rather than a ‘master check up’
Go to a regular family doctor who knows you well, and to a specialist only when needed
Take immunisation for diseases like pneumonia
Be exposed to sunlight for Vitamin D, follow a good diet with intake of millets
Keep your money secure and make a will!