Radhakrishnan, director of Dignity Foundation, Chennai Chapter, talks of the efforts his organisation has made to help the elderly. He hopes to soon branch into Kerala

There are some heartening facts about the condition of the elderly in Kerala. There is much less elder abuse, in comparison to societies elsewhere in the country and the elderly are seldom rendered homeless. “But the situation is changing,” says K. Radhakrishnan, Director (Chennai Chapter) of Dignity Foundation, a Mumbai-based NGO that deals with issues regarding the elderly in the country. Radhakrishnan who hails from Thrissur retired as Vice President of Union Carbide Corporation in 1992 and joined the Dignity Foundation in 2002 when it opened its chapter in Chennai. For the last 18 years he has worked as director of the organisation and has been instrumental in its growth that began as a small 68-member body to one which currently has 500 members. He, along with a core committee of members, have launched many schemes and services that are helping old and retired people live a life of dignity.

Services for the elderly

In 2002, when he took charge, Radhakrishnan says that they offered two main services — a 24-hour helpline and a companionship service. “There used to be at least five to six calls a day seeking help. We were surprised at the number,” he says recalling the early days. He was shocked that most of these calls were mainly on instances of harassment and abuse by children over property issues. “Intervention in a family issue, by an outside agency, is almost always delicate to handle. We try and bring all parties to the table but many a time we have to take help of the police or legal assistance,” he says disclosing that about 80 per cent of the time the matter is settled amicably and the abuse is stopped.

Some of the other services that Radhakrishnan along with his team, that comprises retired judges, doctors and executives, advocate are companionship service, elder’s second careers service, a monthly ‘Dignity Dialogue’ meeting, psychological counselling, a dementia day-care centre and a daily chai-masti centre service.

As Dignity Foundation is a charitable organisation he and the committee do voluntary service but the office staff are salaried and hence money has to be raised for the workings of the organisation. His main work is to raise funds, in which his corporate background helps. “The CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) option that companies now have is a boon, but negotiating and raising funds is always an uphill task,” he says.

Combating loneliness

A computer programme started by them has as many as 2,000 elderly learning to access mails and check their bank accounts. Loneliness, a major problem among the aged is tackled through their companionship service that allows volunteers to take the elderly, on request, out for a film, to the restaurant, bank, shopping or even indulge in plain chit-chat.

The Dementia Day Care Centre, started in 2008, collects the affected from their homes and engages them in physical and mental activities. The Elders Second Career service has been another successful initiative. “At 60 there are so many retirees in good physical and mental health and with their wealth of experience, they can be useful in many ways. We work with the industry and find placements for them. In fact we now find many corporates wanting to enlist the retirees for their experience,” he says. The chai-masti, a daily programme at different centres finds the aged interacting over a cup of tea and board games. The Dignity Dialogue magazine published from Mumbai is a mouthpiece for the elders.

About his home state, Radhakrishnan says that despite big homes and a comparatively well cared for elders, the state is witnessing a trend of the aged opting for age old homes. “Most elders are left to fend for themselves as their children live outside the state. Even with the best intentions of the family they find themselves lonely and uncared for,” says Radhakrishnan, who is ready to bring the good work of Dignity Foundation to Kerala with assistance from an eager group here.

At 77, Radhakrishnan does not seem to be in a mood to hang up his boots but is brimming with plans for the elderly, happy to bring dignity to senior citizens through service.

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