Situation reflects the breakdown of systems to take care of the aged in society

The story of three aged women from Pachalam, who had no one to take care of them, grabbed the attention of city residents again recently when the eldest among them passed away. The plight of the sisters, however, is familiar to many elderly people here.

“The two older sisters, Alli and Santha, used to teach at a government school in the city. They were living on the pension that both of them received,” said the owner of a shop next to the sisters’ house. Alli, who was 92, passed away last week and her body lay at the house for two days before local people found out about the death and informed the police. Police admitted Santha, 82, and her younger sister Baby, who is mentally-challenged to the Ernakulam General Hospital. Both sisters were later shifted to the Government Mental Health Centre at Thrissur.

The situation of the aged sisters is a reflection of the breakdown of systems to take care of the elderly in society. Increasing number of people are being abandoned by their families and forced to fend for themselves in their old age, social activists observed.

“What happened to the sisters and other stories we hear about old people being abandoned at Guruvayur are all early warnings of a problem that is growing every day,” said Biju Mathew, State head of HelpAge India. Mr. Mathew said that the elderly currently constitute over 13 per cent of the State’s population. “They are expected to form more than 24 per cent of the population by 2025. That is almost double the current figure and we need to plan for the future,” he said.

Social workers trying to bring relief to the elderly come across several cases where the elderly are left to fend for themselves as their children cannot take care of them. “In many cases, the children are working in different places or do not have the time or money to take care of the parents,” sad Nisha Varghese, co-ordinator of the Kerala Social Security Mission’s Vayomithram project in Kochi.

In such cases, Vayomithram helps shift the abandoned elderly to old-aged homes. The project also offers medicines and palliative care to the aged and can be reached on their helpline number 9349388887.

Mr. Mathew feels that old-age homes are only a temporary solution.

“We are suggesting setting up self-help groups for the elderly in the model of the Kudumbasree programme. Such groups will ensure that the elderly feel productive. Besides providing company, the community will also ensure the welfare of each member,” he said.

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