Are we treating our elders right? A gathering of grandparents and grandchildren at the Yuvabharathi Public School and another event conducted by Parivu, a newly launched initiative by GKNM Hospital to help the elderly, highlighted this question, and suggested answers to it.
Yuvabharathi Public School, Coimbatore, organised Grandparents Day and an interface between grandparents and students recently, and encouraged them to ‘talk’ to each other. While the questions the students raised were mostly general about their grandparents’ childhood, and so on, it was the unspoken words that echoed uncomfortably in the auditorium. What role do grandparents play today? Are they relevant to a family? Are they even acknowledged as part of one? “One child wanted to bring her grandmother for the event, but her parents said ‘no’,” said a teacher. “When I asked if anyone fetched and carried for their thatha and paati, one child responded with, ‘Why should I? They can take it themselves.’
It was apparent that the social fabric had changed. Relationships were redefined. The ‘elder’ in the family was no longer necessarily the head of the family. Many of them said they missed being ‘in control’. Sitting back and letting others take charge of their lives was not easy. While some enjoyed the ‘retirement’ and the chance to spend quality time with grandchildren, there was also the difficulty in letting go and moving to the sidelines.
During the interaction, one thatha appealed: “Be patient and tolerant with us. You have to give us the time to allow us to ignite your minds.”
On that day in Yuvabharathi, it was apparent that grandparents wished to be part of their grandchildren’s lives. The grandchildren seemed to want the same thing. Some kids proudly introduced their grandparents to the teachers, while others seemed embarrassed about it. Some grandparents beamed with pride and chatted non-stop, some others were quieter and more subdued. Several of them surreptitiously wiped away tears.
Speaking on the occasion, Kezevino Aram, Director of Shanti Ashram that helped organise the event said: “There is a short supply of love and affection. Whether it is the changing social fabric or the frenetic pace of life, children no longer have role models to emulate. We are even reluctant to share physical space with the older members of the family.”
According to Dr. Meera, community health department of PSG IMS and R: “One has to actively instil affection and respect for elders from a young age.” It was heartbreaking, she said, to see the number of old people being abandoned by their children. She reinforced the very real problem of ageing with a power point presentation.
Health and emotions
A family is busy preparing for their son’s wedding and there is animated discussion on what needs to be done. The boy’s grandfather, 75, is unable to hear the conversation. When he tries to ask his son what is happening, he is rudely asked to stay quiet and told that everything will be explained to him later. On being repeatedly rebuked, the man withdraws into a corner and isolates himself from the conversation.
In another scene, the man is heard out patiently by his son, who then asks him for his suggestions on the venue for the wedding, the guest list and includes him in the decision-making process. Both were scenarios playacted by volunteers of Parivu, a recently launched Senior Citizens’ Society, but every one was aware that the former was more a reflection of reality in many families.
The playacting was part of their first training session, conducted at the G. Kuppuswamy Naidu Memorial Hospital on how to communicate effectively with the elderly.
The session also included demonstrations on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) techniques, dealing with epileptic seizures and moving the frail and old from the bed to an ambulance, during an emergency.
The volunteers, who ranged from college professionals to retired teachers and income tax officers, quizzed the medical specialists with several questions.
For the youngest member, a college student, this session cleared a lot of misconceptions.
“I used to think that a patient suffering from an epileptic fit should be given water or an iron rod to hold onto. I now learnt that this can in fact be harmful. I will also learn to deal with my grandmother more patiently, and include her in our day-to-day conversations,” said R. Kowshik, a third year engineering student from Sri Ramakrishna Engineering College.
For others, the session allowed them to break the ice with other volunteers and be part of a rewarding experience.
“The best part about the training was that it was interactive, which allowed us to get to know the other volunteers better. Being part of this society will also serve us better as we enter old age,” said Lalitha Ramachandran, a middle-aged volunteer.
Parivu is looking for more volunteers. To register as a volunteer, call 8098209090 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ageing in India
The 2001 census counts the proportion of Indian population above the age of 60 years as 77 million, which constitutes about 7.4 per cent of the entire population. It is estimated that by 2051 the population of 60 plus is expected to reach to over 300 million, translating to 17 per cent of the total population, of which a large proportion would live in rural areas. This increases the burden of chronic illnesses and ailments specific to these twilight years tending to bring down the quality of life. A large proportion of the population is adversely impacted as they are not productive and are dependent on others. Economic independence is less in elderly women than their male counterparts, thus they are more vulnerable and deprived.
Helping the seniors
Promote health across the life-course
Create age-friendly environments that foster the health and participation of older people
Provide access to basic primary health care, long-term care and palliative care
Acknowledge the value of older people and help them participate fully in family and community life.
World Health Organization. World Health Day 2012 – Ageing and Health, Good health adds life to years. 2012. India.