Speakers at a session on ‘Ageing Kerala - A Challenge,' organised on World Elders' Day on Saturday, said that while the population of the elderly was going up steadily, society was ill-prepared to take on the challenges of caring for them. The session was organised by Kerala Social Security Mission and Public Health Students' Forum of Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies.

Now, while the focus was more on better healthcare for the elderly, more attention should be paid to their mental well-being. They were haunted by isolation, depression, low self esteem and economic insecurities. Community initiatives, especially the involvement of youngsters, were needed to improve their lot, it was said.

Biju Mathew, who is heading the Kerala chapter of Help Age India, said that abuse of the elderly was a major issue in the State. Most of the elderly abuse is ‘hidden' and in many homes, the care of the elderly ended with provision of food and medical care.

M.R. Rajagopal, the chairman of Pallium India, said that all that the elderly needed was a helping hand and a willing ear to listen. Palliative care was an essential part of caring for the elderly. Often, the physical discomforts faced by the elderly – aches, problems of digestion or diarrhoea – are ignored by the family, Dr. Rajagopal said.

Vijayakumar, professor of Community Medicine, said that because of gender discrimination, widowhood and financial dependence on children, old age is a more painful period for women. Most of them cannot go out alone and the lack of social interaction make elderly women more vulnerable to abuse also.

Srikanth P. Krishnan, the secretary of Alzheimer's and Related Disorders Society, ssaid that dementia was set to become the biggest challenge soon. Social issues involved in caring for those with dementia needed special attention.

Managing diabetes and its complications, which form a chunk of the physical problems faced by the elderly, was dealt by Srijith N. Kumar, physician and IMA's district president.

Week-long programmes, with the active involvement of the elderly, are being organised by the Public Health Students' Forum.