Making the world more elderly friendly

Most societies favour the young and consider senior citizens to be a burden. Is this fair? Must we not seek to fight against ageism?
 

Published: 13th April 2021 07:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th April 2021 07:19 AM   |  A+A-

How life changes! In the beginning one is born. Your parents take care of your every need and want. You grow in age and wisdom. You grow in terms of work ability and income. You may even do better than your parents in many physical ways of measuring success.

And then your parents age. In the beginning, your parents would leave to work when you stayed home, and now your parents stay at home when you step out to work. In the beginning, your parents took care of you, and now you take care of them. In the beginning they took you out for your vaccination shots and held your hand. Today, you take them out for their Covid shots and hold their hand. Hopefully. In an ideal world, yes.

Age is a number that just grows and grows. From single digits to double and maybe more in the future. People age, as do societies and countries. As medical facilities and interventions improve and as increased longevity becomes a trend in itself, societies will comprise more and more older people. And as countries grapple with older populations, there is indeed a need for a very active philosophy and policy to take care of the elderly in a society that is progressively leveraged only by the young and the physically strong.

The question then: Who does the earth belong to? The young and the “go-getting”, or the elderly and the “been-there-done-that” generation?

Even as one peeps into an answer to that question, the very definition of the young and the elderly is changing. In the old days, the definition of the elder was a landmark 50 years of age. Today, the senior citizen in most countries is defined to be the one at the mark of 60. In India today, 50 is the new 30, 70 is the new 50! And that’s what increased longevity is doing all over the world.

Rhetorical questions and age definitions apart, the point is simple. Society today consists of the young and the elderly. Most societies are leveraged to the young, as opposed to the elderly. Is this fair? And must we correct it, if unfair?

The simple point, stretched a bit, demands answers from societies that believe the young to be the productive set and the old to be a burden. Must we not then change our very mindset first about the elderly quotient in our population numbers? Must we not seek to fight against ageism as a prejudice principle altogether?

Ageism exists everywhere in our midst, except of course in the realm of politics, where the older you are, the better you are seen to be. Kudos to our democracy for getting it right on age and ageism.

Let’s look at commercial society. Every government has an age of retirement for its employees. Every private sector enterprise has a similar norm. The age of retirement is seen to be both a boon and a bane. It is a boon when it comes to defining the age to let it all go and enjoy a peaceful life, doing what you really want to do. And it is a bane when it comes to the very solid point that commercial society is letting go of its best resources at a point of time when they must not be let go. Out here, the dominant theme remains that the working person works till they enjoy working. The point then. Must the age of retirement find a tweak upwards to allow for the best resources of the nation to contribute that wee bit more than they are allowed to, by old rule and diktat?

The United Nations estimates the world population to go up to a staggering 9 billion people by 2050. Increased longevity is a big contributing factor to this big jump from the current 7.6 billion people today. Every society (never mind whether it is India with a current median age of 28.43 years) is going to comprise a very large number of the elderly. It is time to think of this population and put together a set of policies that will govern the philosophy, approach and negative biases that are loaded against the elderly.

India of all nations, particularly with its heritage of very strong family ties and the complete umbilical respect for the elderly, is possibly best positioned to emerge as the beacon nation that can define the best practices for elderly management. If we do it right, we can set a template that needs to be in place all over the world.

Heritage stances apart, India has in place as early as 1999 (the year the UNGA declared the “International Year of Older Persons”) a National Policy on Older Persons. And this got updated into a more politically correct, “National Policy on Senior Citizens” in 2011. And we do have a National Council for Senior Citizens, headed by the Central Minister of Social Justice. Add to it the fact that the Constitution of India guarantees the Right To Equality to every person of any age, aggressively young or gregariously elderly. Institutionally and constitutionally, I think India is at a sweet spot in its focus on the elderly in our population.

It’s time for us to correct some deficiencies in the way we deal with our elderly. Time to get sensitive to the fact that every infrastructure put into place must be totally convenient and comfortable for them. Licenses for the elderly driving on our roads must be that much more user-friendly in approach. Insurance policies and philosophies must be equally so. And there are a hundred other arenas of elderly comfort to look into. We just need to be ready to do an elderly audit on every business we put together, every piece of infrastructure and every bit of societal attitude we put together.

I think it is time for us to mainstream our elderly (52.7 million above the age of 70 at last count) into the national fabric of work, participation, contribution and belongingness. I am afraid the valuable elderly in our population today live in the sub-stream, not the mainstream. Why?

(harishbijoor@hotmail.com)



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