BENGALURU : Nuclear families are on the rise with elders living alone and their children living in another city or country; advances in medical science are leading to increased longevity; elder-friendly physical infrastructure is inadequate. On the other hand, seniors would love to have richer social lives, pursue hobbies, careers, interests such as travel and lead fuller lives while having the solace and comfort of a go-to service. Which is why the concept of the ‘proxy child’, vaguely based on the rent-a-friend concept, is on the rise in Bengaluru.
After working for 40 years, Janesh (name changed) wanted to travel with his wife and work with the less privileged. With his two sons settled abroad, Janesh required assistance to manage his airport pick-ups and drops, to plan trips and to manage the household – bill payments and grocery shopping for the day they arrive, schedule check-ups according to travel plans.
“We travel a lot and needed help to manage our things. Since we do not have our children here, it is good to have some young people around when we are in town,” he says about the service he utilises once a week. Although the couple is very independent, Janesh says they like spending time with their proxy kid. “Sometimes we spend a day repotting or managing the garden or baking with my wife,” he says.
While it comes with a price tag of `700 for four hours, seniors look at proxy children as those who provide them a sense of security. When Rangaraj (name changed) was finding it hard to cope with the loss of his wife, the senior in his 70s admits that he had hit a dead end. Then, on the suggestion of one of his daughters that he should allow someone to come home and talk to him, Rangaraj gave in to the idea of a caregiver. After the initial visits when Rangaraj poured out his heart, he decided to ask the counsellor’s help to learn to use the smartphone, which he felt would empower him.
“I learnt how my phone works and started figuring out new features on my own. Now, I can pay my bills and do internet banking. Whenever I think I want something more, I go to the app store and search for an appropriate app to help me out,” says Rangaraj, who formerly worked in the ISRO in the SAT Center.
Once or twice a week, his counsellor also helps with practising his speech (Ranjaraj has recently been detected with Parkinson’s) and supervises his walking with a stick or walker. “I feel safer. I was reluctant only because I did not think someone or something could help me from my sorrow,” says Rangaraj.
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
Agrees HP Krishnamurthy (84), who, along with his 76-year-old wife, has a proxy child running errands – hailing out to an autorickshaw, lending a hand to cross streets, buying groceries, paying bills, visiting banks, accompanying them on doctor visits – every two weeks. “I was hesitant in the beginning and wondered whether it was really required. But my daughter felt that in case of an emergency, there would be someone who would be available for us,” says a former general manager.
A widower, RK Warrier worries about living alone “all the time”.
The 79-year-old requires regular medical assistance for an eye-related ailment. “On days that I require to take an injection, I’m practically blind. I need someone to hold my hand, pay the hospital bill, get hold of an auto, seat me in and walk me to my door. Only 3-4 hours after the injection, my eyesight is restored,” says Warrier, adding, “It’s been a great confidence-booster.”
The startup space has been burgeoning as the elder support space is constantly evolving as Santosh Abraham, co-founder of ElderAid puts it. “It will come into its own in the next three to five years,” he says. The company’s co-founder, Dr Vandana Nadig Nair, says that their setup was founded in response to a growing need within her own extended family. “I saw my aunts and uncles in Bengaluru with children in other cities/countries, who needed help and support; children who visited as frequently as once a month to tend to their parents; and worry on all sides.”
Through a need-based
assessment, Devanshi Seth (founder of Caveo) found that elders were in need of company. “The apprehension has been only until one has to convince the older adults and sometimes the family to let someone in. The services are not always requested for by seniors. Most times their children call in to make initial enquiries. There have been requests from seniors to take them out for coffee. Another day it could be a surprise birthday that someone’s son or daughter has planned with us,” Devanshi says.
As Rahul Upadhyay, founder of seniorshelf.com says, “At the end of the day, we have found this work meaningful. It is not just about providing a nurse or a caregiver to a person, but also about having helped make an elderly person’s life a little better, in whatever way we could. That, more than anything else, has been an immensely rewarding experience.”