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Rains worsen plight of elderly

K. Lakshmi and
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Since June, at least 60 senior citizens have been abandoned on the streets

Many of the senior citizens rescued from the streets are in very poor health —Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam
Many of the senior citizens rescued from the streets are in very poor health —Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Nagarunissa, who is in her 70s, has been living on the pavement along Sydenhams Road in Periamet for several years. She depends on local residents for food, and with folded hands, thanks passers-by who give her money.

“My son lives in Bangalore, but I have been here for the past 20 years. I sit here all day and sleep on the pavement at night,” she said in a feeble voice. Like her, Kottima, also in her 70’s, is seated on the pavement along Pulianthope High Road. The pavement is home to at least two other elderly women.

According to members of non-governmental organisations, over the last few months, there has been a rise in the number of homeless senior citizens in the city. The same period has also seen an increase in the number of elderly persons living alone.

Since June, volunteers of the elderly helpline ‘1253’ have rescued nearly 60 senior citizens who have been abandoned on the streets. They were mostly found in areas around Central and Egmore railway stations and Koyambedu. Many were found in poor health.

R. Muthukrishnan, a helpline counsellor, said that the helpline team generally rescued 30-35 persons a month. So far this month, 15 persons have been rescued.

“The number of people we rescue usually increases in the rainy season, as more people call in and report such cases. Since they are homeless, they have nowhere to go, and people notice them sitting in the rain. When it is not raining, hardly anyone notices pavement dwellers. We admit those we rescue in hospitals or old age homes,” he said.

An employee at a store on Pulianthope High Road said, “I have been seeing these elderly women here for the last two months. They do not take cover when it rains.”

Apart from reports about the homeless elderly, the helpline also receives many calls from senior citizens who feel insecure.

Counsellors said the number of calls they receive has increased from 7-10 daily a few months ago, to around 25 per day now.

At least 30 per cent of the calls are from senior citizens who want to move to old age homes or enquire about caregivers. Similarly, the 108 ambulance attends to at least three senior citizens every day.

“We deal with around 125 cases in Chennai a day. Of these, at least three are geriatric cases. Most of them pertain to senior citizens fainting or problems due to starvation. These are mainly homeless elderly people living on the roads,” said M. Mohammed Bilal, district manager of GVK EMRI, the firm that runs the 108 ambulance service.

A number of senior citizens like 73-year-old- S. Ganapathy and his wife prefer to live alone. “My son is abroad and my married daughter lives in another area. I don’t want to be a burden. I manage with help from friends during emergencies. I am financially independent and want to spend my retirement days with dignity,” said this Ambattur resident.

Indrani Rajadurai, honorary special adviser, HelpAge India, said the trend of senior citizens living alone is on the rise, both because of economic independence and children living in other cities. She said many of these people faced problems relating to health and finances.

The State government must focus on establishing geriatric clinics in semi-urban and rural areas and bring medical care to the doorstep of the elderly, she said.

“Elderly persons living on the roads get chest infections caused by exposure to dust and fumes, skin infections and chronic ulcers due to improper diets. The government should conduct a study to find out the number of elderly people living on the road and those living alone. Long-term care should be considered for these citizens,” said V.S. Natarajan, a senior city-based geriatrician.

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