Mental health issues rising in old age homes: Meaningful intervention can make difference

Mental health issues rising in old age homes: Meaningful intervention can make difference

In India, one in four elderly people face mental health issues. Loneliness and other conditions frequently worsen when elderly are abandoned at old age homes. The care for the elderly is confronted by a variety of challenges due to India's rapid urbanisation.

About 75% of them suffer from a chronic condition. Furthermore, 40% of them struggle with disabilities. These results were obtained by the Longitudinal Ageing Study of India (LASI), and the health ministry released them in 2021. According to the assessment, more than one in ten elderly aged 60+ in states like MP, UP, Delhi, Bihar, and Goa suffer from "probably major depression. Those aged 85+ had the greatest rate, closely followed by those 75 to 84 years of age" According to a recent survey, when compared to other groups, older persons had the highest rate of suicide. Isolation during the pandemic had taken a higher toll on the elderly.

There is compelling evidence that typical mental health issues in the elderly are becoming more common, along with mortality, hospitalisation, and loss of functional ability. To effectively treat them, it is crucial to find new and unmet problem areas with efficient outcomes. The two most prominent conditions, dementia and depression, affect 5% to 7% of people over 60. WHO reports that anxiety is a close second, affecting 3.8% of older persons. However, depression and anxiety frequently coexist, as evidenced by the fact that up to roughly half of older patients report having significant depressive and anxiety symptoms.

By encouraging active and healthy ageing, older persons' mental health can be enhanced. Creating suitable surroundings and living conditions and promoting their well-being can potentially enable and empower the older people to lead healthy lives.

As the majority of the elderly residing in old-age homes are either abandoned by family or are generally underprivileged and destitute. They are potentially more vulnerable to chronic or recurring mental and physical conditions. It is also necessary to conduct awareness programs and counselling sessions for them.

Both the government and the NGOs have been working in this direction. VridhCare, an NGO working for the welfare of the elderly, has been running several awareness campaigns to combat the mental health issues that the elderly confront. Gargi Lakhanpal, director of VridhCare,says, “Only those who go through this unfortunate phase of life know how difficult it can be to survive. A little bit of love, care, empathy and concern can go a long way in giving them the freedom to enjoy their golden years.”

Besides conducting regular medical camps and counselling sessions, VridhCare also holds cultural events for the elderly. They recently held cultural events for Janmashtami and Raksha Bandhan at several old age homes in Delhi, including Jai Maa Durga Ashram, Mahatma Jyoti Phule Memorial Senior Living Facility, and Shanti Bhawan. Additionally, they even help organise various programs and competitions like yoga, art, and dance.

VridhCare has served over 600 old-age homes in India. They have used their presence and extensive network to raise awareness, normalise conversations, and carry out several social activities to address the needs of elderly. It combines information and subject-matter expertise to carefully curate and develop solutions to address, support, and raise awareness of mental health in older adults.

Given the rising challenges and the mental issues that confront the elderly, the responsibility to cater to their emotional, physical, and financial demands rests on a broader community. Several NGOs are taking initiatives in this direction. Continuous effort should be made to provide them with a life of dignity and hope.

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The New Indian Express