As nuclear families have become an in-thing, care for senior citizens is an important issue
Violence against elders exists. But, it doesn’t come out much, says lawyer
“Not many opt for old-age homes because of the stigma attached to living in a home”
CHENNAI: The housing, medical care and legal rights of the elderly have begun to hog attention in the developed world with its ageing population. In India, however, the numbers of the elderly are increasing without attracting proportionate allocation of resources, several say.
As nuclear families have become an in-thing, the care of senior citizens is an important issue that children should discuss and handle with compassion, social workers say.
The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill, 2007, was approved by Parliament in December last year. It provides for three months’ imprisonment for those who abandon their parents. Prior to this Bill, parents were entitled to maintenance under the Criminal Procedure Code.
Advocate Geetha Ramaseshan says, “I have had cases of senior citizens complaining about their children abusing them. I believe violence against elders exists. But, it doesn’t come out much.” She says the passing of the Bill is a welcome move, as it acknowledges the problem.
The Bill has a clause for punishing those who abandon their parents or relatives whose property they had inherited or would get as their legal heirs.
“It remains to be seen whether there will be a lot of litigation because of the Bill. Many elders are reluctant to file cases against their children,” she adds.
Homes for the elderly have mushroomed. Several paid homes are now available for those who are used to certain amenities. Not many opt for old-age homes because of the stigma attached to living in a home, several say.
Among the affluent, however, the practice is increasingly viewed as a convenience, especially with children living abroad. A few premium homes for the elderly have come up in the suburbs of the city. Most paid homes require a deposit amount and a monthly rent.
“Senior citizens often approach our club and ask us to recommend a good old age home, but we avoid making such recommendations, as we hear of several problems in these homes. There have been cases of the deposits not being returned,” Probus Club of Madras’ organising committee chairman T. T. Srinivasamurti said.
While some of these homes are as well-maintained as five-star hotels, elders prefer frequent interaction with children and grand children, he feels.
Also, in old age homes services match payment made by the elders or their family — the higher the payment, the better the service. Several organisations working for the elders usually prefer to improve souring relations between family members instead of offering them the option of going to a home.
S.M. Chellaswamy, State General Secretary, Tamil Nadu Senior Citizens and Pensioners Welfare Association, says that one of the demands of the association is free old age home for those below poverty line in every district. Currently, the old age pension is the only tangible provision the government is providing to the elderly. While the association demands that the health insurance scheme be implemented soon, it has also asked the government to reduce the income tax exemption limit and the interest charged by public sector banks for loans to senior citizens.
Associations help the elderly push their agenda with the government, besides offering them a forum to discuss their problems and organise activities.
Mr. Srinivasamurti talks about the Probus Club’s activities with the enthusiasm of a teenager. The club, an association of retired professionals and business people, is sponsored by the Rotary Club and is involved in activities relating to the welfare of senior citizens.
“Our members have formed a committee that would follow up with the State Government and Centre on various policies related to senior citizens,” he says. Besides organising health camps, lectures by eminent doctors and legal experts, spiritual discourses, and recreational activities such as cultural programmes and sports for members, the Club is actively involved in various projects for the underprivileged.
The medical needs of the elderly are many. While those with medical insurance or pension manage quite well, it is the poor who need help, says geriatric physician V.S. Natarajan. “The Central Government Health Scheme medical centres and the Railway hospitals should post geriatricians,” he says. Increasing the bed strength in the geriatric ward in government hospitals will benefit below poverty line families.
Dr.Natarajan recently launched a house call programme where doctors and physiotherapists offer their services in 20 areas in the city. Timely care improves health but delay resulting from an inability to contact the doctor or reach a hospital brings down recovery rate, he says.
He has also instituted a ‘phone-in-advice’ facility for chronic patients. Many service organisations offer volunteer services for those needing assistance to visit the bank, post office or the doctor.
(With inputs from J. Malarvizhi, Meera Srinivasan, R. Sujatha, and K. Lakshmi.)