For many people, the sunset years of life often turn out to be traumatic. They live alone, handling rising costs, scrambling to find and pay people even to repair that burst water pipe.

Senior citizens, most of whom have worked all their life, saving and scrimping in order to live a peaceful retired life, find that economic changes have thrown a spanner in the works. A large number of senior citizens have overnight found their life’s savings whittled down, as they manage rising costs of essential commodities, including medicines, on what they had set aside for their retirement years.

“Life can be better at least if you are rich and old,” says V. Balambal, past president of the Probus Club. Poverty deals a further blow on people weakened physically, and sometimes emotionally, almost depriving them of their ability to cope, she says. If you have money, you can shift to a retirement village, or pay for services that come at a cost.

In Chennai, FMCG major Vivek and Co. has started its Homeserve scheme, providing servicing of kitchen and home products at the door step for a fee. Various packages are being offered, to maintain and service equipment, and undertake carpentry, electrical and plumbing work. Of the 725 customers who have enrolled so far, about 50 per cent are senior citizens, according to M. Prabhu, retail manager, Homeserve.

Senior Care India, for instance, has launched services for senior citizens in Chennai. These include payment of bills, visits to the doctor, and delivery of medicines. Bharath Kumar, the CEO of the company, says customers make a one-time payment upon enrolment. There is a monthly charge for services. “This could be between Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 7,800,” he says.

“Often it is the running between pillar to post that is a huge problem for senior citizens,” says Ms. Balambal. “Whether it is payment of bills or trying to get medical care, there is so much of running around and waiting that we have to do. When you are over a certain age, it becomes very tiring, even impossible.” For instance, she says the Central Government Health Scheme provides for medical treatment for retired staff, but the process of getting medical clearance for procedures is long and frustrating.

Often, when senior citizens are ill, mobility becomes an issue. “Patients have to be stabilised even before they can reach a health care facility. That is one of the reasons senior geriatrician V.S. Natarajan launched the HouseCall programme. It was met with great support in Chennai and its suburbs. A list of 30 or so doctors, some of them geriatricians, are on call to attend to the elderly. “The doctor does an initial assessment and our patients have told us it saves them time, discomfort, and money. It has saved lives.”

A key aspect is to ensure health care facilities, says Indrani Rajadurai, adviser to HelpAge India. Providing identity cards to the aged, keeping them informed of welfare services they can avail of, and arranging for mobile medical services at the doorstep are all strategies that would help.

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