Among the biggest worries of working couples today is day care for children and, now, elders. While good day care centres, although expensive, are available for children, such facilities are absent for elders. Working couples constantly worry about the safety of the elderly at home. They shudder to think of accidents that can occur due to faulty electricity connection, cooking gas leakage and a slip in the bathroom, and dangers from service providers. In many instances, even people well known to aged couples have caused them harm.
In my neighbourhood, a working couple had the responsibility of taking care of the 77-year-old father of the man, and their two-year-old child. They made arrangements with a good baby care centre to take care of the child. But they were constantly worried about the old man. He was not allowed to enter the kitchen or open the door for any stranger. Food, water, fruits, medicines and tea were neatly arranged in containers so that he did not have to struggle for anything. But making such arrangements meant spending more energy and time. The man and the woman called him twice a day to make sure whether everything was ok.
One day, he did not answer the phone. The couple panicked and called their neighbours, who had spare keys to their house. The neighbours found the old man lying dead in the bathroom, caused by a short circuit in the water heater.
In another instance, an elderly man went to his room to get money to pay for drinking water. The boy who supplied it followed him stealthily, strangulated him with a wire and made good with valuables.
In yet another case, an elderly man was found in a semi-coma stage. He had not taken his medicine for diabetes as the family had forgotten to replenish the stock. Every day, many such incidents take place when elders stay alone at home.
After the funeral in my neighbour’s family, there was a discussion among working couples on the need for day care centres (DCC) for the aged, similar to those in many countries. Since nuclear families have become the norm in India, the number of working couples and senior citizens living alone during day time has increased tremendously. Paid caretakers are neither trustworthy nor affordable, especially for the middle class.
DCCs are a good idea because many elders do not like to move into senior citizen homes. They are reluctant to adjust with strangers and adopt a different lifestyle late in their lives. They do not want to be cut off from their children and grandchildren. The elders are picked up and dropped back home every evening. Working couples do not have to worry about them.
According to the National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA), there are more than 4,600 adult day care centres in the U.S. However, this concept is not common in India.
DCCs should be adequately staffed, keeping in mind the needs of elders. Generally, the staff consist of a director, a social worker, a registered nurse, a driver, a secretary, an accountant and assistants who aid in personal care.
A well-run DCC should focus on enriching the lives of elders —building upon their skills, knowledge, and unique abilities and strengths. The activities usually include arts and crafts, music, and recreation. Mental stimulation games, gentle exercises, discussions on books and films, outdoor and indoor games, weekly outings and birthday celebrations also form part of the activities. There are health support services such as blood pressure monitoring, vision screening and counselling for depressed seniors. The staff of DCCs should be sensitised to the needs of senior citizens and trained in rendering friendly service. The needs of the physically challenged should be taken care of by specially trained persons.
The correct way to promote successful ageing is to ensure that elders stay connected with others and remain engaged in some activity of their liking. A DCC does exactly this. Some DCCs can offer programmes that include children. If a DCC and a child care centre are located in the same building, seniors can engage themselves in teaching music, painting, drawing, story-telling and other activities. Enjoyable activities keep the elderly busy. Chatting with others of their age group helps them drive away loneliness. A DCC should have a library, a computer room, resting rooms with comfortable bedding, senior-friendly rest rooms, television, and a canteen to provide healthy and timely food.
DCCs can charge daily, weekly or monthly fees. They should be moderate and affordable. Running DCCs would be suitable for young entrepreneurs who want to experiment with non-traditional business ventures. This business has a social welfare angle to it. It will offer comfortable income to them since India has a significantly large number of pensioners, and middle-class caregivers will not mind paying. NGOs, too, can enter the field and charge nominally for their services.
(The writer’s email id is firstname.lastname@example.org)