Populations worldwide are ageing. Young today is old tomorrow. Better living conditions, lower birth rates and medical science advancements have increased the life expectancy of humans. This would also mean increase in the population of the elderly. The coming years will see an increasing amount of aged couples and widows, many of whom may continue to feel the pressure of earning a livelihood due to lack of social security and insurance.
At the same time, the process of aging will be accompanied by increased vulnerability to illness and death. All these features of aging imply that the problems of the elderly will need a special focus and approach.
CBR and the Senior Citizens’ Forum
Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) network is an international NGO working in the area of the physically challenged, women and senior citizens. The Banashankari-based Senior Citizens’ Forum is a wing under CBR, which has volunteers working together to help the elderly get their benefits from the government and assert their rights for a dignified life in the society.
“Since disability and ageing are issues that co-exist, it has been taken up as one of the causes of our network. As people age, almost everyone goes through the disability-like conditions – eyesight and hearing problems, mobility, etc. They need to be treated with compassion”, explains Indumathi Rao, regional Advisor for CBR network (South Asia).
Furthermore, she says, India is the fastest graying country in the world. Two-thirds of the world’s ageing people are found in developing countries. The last 70-80 years have seen large scale of urbanisation as a result of industrialisation. This transformed the Indian social structure of joint families into nuclear families. With such a shift in demography, we need a sensitive government to handle issues of the elderly, she says.
“We seniors want to live with dignity, and wish to participate actively in the society” says T S Venkatesh Murthy, coordinator. A directorate for seniors was formed only in 2006. “Policy makers themselves are senior citizens, yet the welfare of seniors is a low priority”, points out another coordinator K L Jayaram.
“Instead of looking at the aged as a liability, the government must think of ways to make use of their years of expertise” adds Indumathi.
Awareness is power
Senior Citizens’ Forum has dedicated volunteers working out of their small functional office at Banashankari III Stage. Their main area of concern is spreading awareness of various old age benefits among the elderly. At present, as many as eight departments (like the Railways, KSRTC, Income Tax, etc.) of the Indian government give discounts/special facilities to senior citizens in India. Most of the time the facility does not percolate down to the beneficiaries and the common public may not be aware of them either.
The forum has an exclusive radio programme for them called Bala Belaku (Light of life) under Jnanavani of Indira Gandhi Open University (IGNOU). The programme hosts discussions with lawyers, doctors and different eminent personalities from various walks of life, with a phone-in time at the end, where experts answer questions.
The forum primarily assists elders in getting senior-citizen ID cards, and helps them apply for old-age pension, disability allowance, etc. It has contacts with other senior citizen groups in the city and provides timely assistance. “Most seniors don’t know that they can avail 10 percent and more rebate on the billing amount in most private hospitals and nursing homes”, says Satyanarayan M C, who is also a co-coordinator.
Health care is a major issue for the elderly. Only recently the government and some private hospitals have a dedicated geriatrics ward (geriatrics is the branch of Medicine which focuses on health care for the elderly). Surprisingly, the Indian Medical Council (IMC) does not have a geriatrics branch yet. There are about 100 plus geriatricians in India today, who have done the specialisation abroad.
“A petition filed by Dr M N Subramaniam and A Raja Reddy of the Helping Hand NGO asks the government to direct the IMC to introduce Gerontology, Geriatrics and Geriatric care in MBBS courses”, informs K L Renu, aged 85, and the most active co-coordinator of the forum. Recently, a PG course (MD) in geriatric medicine has been introduced in the Geriatric Department in the Government General Hospital in Chennai (Chennai Medical College).
“Now, the final year students of medicine have a course in geriatrics”, informs Dr Rajesh Mahadevan, India’s first Geriatrician to be certified from USA. “Since Geriatrics is viewed as non-profitable and capital intensive, hospitals don’t want to venture into it” he informs.
Elders Helpline: 1090
Senior Citizen’s Forum
Contact: K L Renu (Coordinator)
#134, 6th main, First Block
Banashankari III stage
Tel: 2672 4221
Some of the organisations working in the senior citizens domain:
Banjara Academy (counseling)
RT Nagar, Bangalore.
Tel: 23535787, 23535766
Swasahaya, Welfare of Elders and families
JP Nagar, Bangalore.
Tel: 26595582, 26596096
The main activities of the forum include:
- Assistance in getting the senior citizen ID cards from the government.
- Guidance to avail the old age pension, widow’s pension and disability monthly maintenance.
- Guidance regarding several discounts provided by different government departments.
- Getting the information from various government departments on the schemes/facilities or the statistics of the beneficiaries of such facilities (through RTI)
- Guidance to the local senior citizens in civic matters, consumer issues/property matters/ law etc.
- Guidance regarding hospitals and nursing homes, pharmacies where senior citizens can get a discount.
- Conducting awareness programmes about the issues faced by seniors.
- Sensitisation programme for the school children to make them socially responsive and responsible.
- Forming Self Help Groups of Senior Citizens to enable them with errands, escorts and small everyday activities. (These groups can consist of small group within a small area, like one SHG for every 12-15 houses.)
- Assisting and guiding the SHGs to assert their rights and information.
Forum members emphasise that the government needs to tie up with the NGOs working in this field so that there will be proper channeling of efforts. With rapid upsurge in the proportion of the elderly, this should be a concern of all individuals, corporates, the private sector, as well as the government. “All youngsters will be old one day,” reminds Renu.