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Parents Need More Care In Their Golden Years

The solution would be to create spaces for senior citizens, with options of day care facilities as well as stay-in; spaces that are safe communities in friendly and cheerful surroundings; spaces that allow the elderly to have a social life and recreational avenues where they are looked after by trained staff who can deal with the healthcare issues and medical emergencies; a space to spend the golden years of one's life

Photo Credit : BW Archives

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The cycle of life dictates that the parents look after their young and then in turn the children care for the elderly parents. Traditional societies worked on this principle and for centuries this worked well, not only in India but in China, Japan and the Mediterranean where multiple generations lived in harmony under one roof.

In ancient India it was even formalized into a text.TheManu Samhita tells of the four ashrams of our lives-the brahmacharya, the grihastha, the vanaprastha and the sanyasa. The responsibility of looking after the household,the young and the elderly, was upon the strong and able members of the grihasthaashram. Those in the vanaprasthaashram had their relevance as advisors in areas such as religion, medicine and politics and passing down oral traditions to children of the household through story-telling.  Mahatma Gandhi said, "Every home is a university and the parents are the teachers."The older generation were the custodians of information, to be passed on to the younger generations and in return were respected and revered, a classic example being Bhishma Pitamah.

The experience of the elderly is invaluable and can be called upon in times of crisis though it is unfortunately becoming increasingly irrelevant in this day of Google, where information is available at the click of a button.While modernization and technology has benefitted the senior citizens in improved healthcare and prolonged life spans, it has also led to their isolation and the loss of their social relevance.With urbanization and increased mobility of the working population, coupled with the extreme stress and demands of modern-day lifestyles, the traditional systems are under strain.

The marginalization of senior citizensexistsacross the social classes, as is evident from reading about cases such as those of Swarna Kapoor of Delhi, who frequently fought with her 62-year old disabled mother-in-law and last week allegedly murdered her and set her on fire; and the recent case that came to light about the plight of the senior Singhanias of the Raymond brand, the world's largest producers of suiting fabric, who are entangled in a property dispute with their son and are now homeless and struggling to pay rent for their house in Mumbai. Many other such horror stories take place everyday across the country.

According to Jared Diamond, a writer and a professor at UCLA, "The idea that it is human nature for parents to make sacrifices for their children and, in turn, for their grown children to sacrifice for their aging parents -turns out to be a 'naive expectation'.This assumption ignores the undeniable conflicts of interest between generations."

In reality, the elderly are by-passed and unfortunately neglected and often abused and, in so many cases, cheated of their property and abandoned.In Japan, which has the largest population of older people, the neglect and abuse of the elderly assumed such high proportions that in a survey conducted, people openly said that they felt hatred towards those they had to care for. The Japanese Government responded by instituting a long term care insurance offering care to those above 65. The scheme is funded by the insurance policies of those over 40 and through taxation.

In India, a study of the census figures of 1951 and 1991 revealed that there was a steady rise in the number of elder persons in the country. To provide the ageing population with a dignified quality of life, the Government framed the National Policy on Older Persons, 1999, which addresses issues such as finances, food security, healthcare and nutrition, shelter, education welfare and protection against abuse and exploitation, with the National Council for Older Persons set up to monitor the implementation of the policy. Another scheme-the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme-was implemented in 1995, to provide financial security to senior citizens living below the poverty line. In the absence of a social security, the Government of India passed the Parents and Senior Citizen's Maintenance and Welfare Act in 2007 making it a legal obligation for the children to look aftertheir aged parents. The Act also seeks to educate people about their legal rights and the duties of the State and the children towards the elderly, and gives the elderly the option of redressal to the courts.

While the schemes exist and the elderly have recourse to legal action, most of them suffer from issues that cannot be addressed by the courts. Loneliness, ill-health and depression are scourges that eat away at their well-being and dignity. The families, though unable to devote time to the elderly are at the same time reluctant to take the difficult decision to place their parents in an old age home. The option is, of course, unavailable to the poorer sections of society while the large middle class and the more affluent shy away from this alternative because of the severe social stigma attached to it. Placing a parent in an old age home is a considered dereliction of duty as prescribed in the shastras.The sons have been conditioned to aspire to be Shravan Kumars carrying the responsibility of their aged parents upon their shoulders.

But this ideal of Shravan Kumar is highly unrealistic in the age of nuclear families wherein the emphasis is more on individualism. The solution would be to create spaces for senior citizens, with options of day care facilities as well as stay-in; spaces that are safe communities in friendly and cheerful surroundings; spaces that allow the elderly to have a social life and recreational avenues where they are looked after by trained staff who can deal with the healthcare issues and medical emergencies; a space to spend the golden years of one's life. If such a space existed, more and more senior citizens would happily opt to live in.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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parenting Old age issues opinion wellness

Archana Dalmia

The author is Chairperson, Grievance Cell, All India Congress Committee and Chairperson - The Silver Lining Network, a project under the the Dineshnandini Ramkrishna Dalmia Foundation

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