Society

Need help taking care of elderly parents living miles away from you?

Home caregiver examining senior woman using stethoscope

Home caregiver examining senior woman using stethoscope   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

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A growing number of India’s elderly population is living alone, with their children either abroad or in other cities. Here’s how the home healthcare community is stepping in to monitor their well-being

When Rajiv Mathur’s wife passed away last year, it was not just the loss of a partner that hit him like a ton of bricks. The 50-year-old resident of Kuwait lost in her, a support system; she had been living with his 87-year-old father, who had suffered a stroke, in Delhi.

“My wife moved with my daughter to Delhi in 2015, immediately after my father had a stroke, to take care of him,” he says. Now he was faced with the choice of quitting his job with an airline carrier in Kuwait, and returning to Delhi. “We tried that option, but with my age and job profile, it was impossible to find an alternative in India,” he says. The solution, he found, was reaching out to a company that provided home healthcare services, while constantly keeping him in the loop.

The ‘elder care’ market in India is booming, with many companies providing at-home services, from diagnostics, post-op rehabilitation to daily care. The latest entrant is Chennai’s Swasmos. The bootstrapped start-up is a preventive healthcare company for seniors, focussing on people who stay away from their elderly parents but want to manage their parents’ health.

A new market

“According to our research, almost six crore Indians live abroad. The maximum number of H1 visas in the US are issued to Indians. However, their parents continue to stay here,” says Kavita Korwar, who co-founded Swasmos along with Pankaj Korwar. These changing demographics gave way to the genesis of Swasmos.

“Even within India, it seldom happens that parents and children live in the same cities. When we speak to our parents over video calls, answers to questions on their health are always evasive. We won’t know until it is something serious,” says Kavita. Kavita’s own parents are in Mumbai, and Pankaj’s in Ranchi.

Swasmos provides assistants, generally phlebotomists who perform diagnostics at home, run them by partner labs, and take the reports to a panel of doctors. The doctors evaluate the report in correlation with the results of a separate questionnaire that checks the clients’ mental, emotional and social well-being. “After consulting psychiatrists, we have narrowed down 72 questions that check how well they are sleeping, what their daily routine is like, how much physical activity they get, and so on. Things that fall outside your regular diagnostic tests,” says Kavita.

In the loop

England-based Dr George Thomas has employed a full-time nurse from Cancare to look after his mother, living in Kochi. While he is quite satisfied with the care provided to his parents, he feels the biggest challenge is to make sure that the elderly kin are safeguarded. “There are chances of psychological abuse, which I have witnessed, and even physical abuse sometimes. Perhaps using CCTV cameras would help,” he wonders.

Home healthcare services have already begun to recognise this. Which is why, they have now set their sights on acting as a bridge between ageing parents in India and their children staying in different cities or countries. Portea has a separate Elder Care Plan with the tagline: ‘Worried about the medical needs of your parents back home?’

“Almost 80 to 90% of our elderly customers stay on their own, and their family members want to make sure that they are taken care of. That’s where we come in; we pick up the role of the family. Our health managers help with the referrals, hospitalisation, rehab, whatever is required,” says Meena Ganesh, managing director, adding that the family is kept in the loop through their online portal. “Whatever information they will need is posted on the portal. They can check the case files, the treatment offered, lab reports, doctors’ notes and so on. The health manager has regular interactions with them, on whatever platform they are comfortable.”

The Numbers
  • 80%: Portea’s senior customers who live alone.
  • 20%: India’s share of population over the age of 60 by 2050, according to a 2019 UN report.
  • ₹1,165 crore: The addressable home healthcare market for senior urban population, according to a report by the Confederation of Indian Industry and Seniority, a retail conglomerate for senior citizens.

Noida-based IVH Senior Care — the company Rajiv decided upon for his father last year — has also turned this into their niche. “I have clients who live in Kuwait, USA, England, Australia, all with parents in India,” says Janardan Yadav, general manager, adding that some of his clients employ CCTVs and alarms in their parents’ houses, if needed. “Also, by compiling all the medications and reports for the family, we can form an online medical record which comes in handy later.”

Easy accessibility of medical history was one of Swasmos’ main concerns. “We created a dashboard on our website that would be as visually simple as possible. We have an overall Swasth score that you can check even if you can’t go through every report,” says Kavita.

Virtual tracking, beyond wearables

When monitoring health, wearables is the first word that comes to mind. However, Dozee, a Bengaluru-based startup, has taken it one step further by developing a sheet that can be put under a mattress. It reads indicators such as heart health, sleep and stress, and sends it to an app on your phone. “A good section of our business goes into elder care: people who are buying these for their parents,” says co-founder Mudit Dandwate. Their product is now also being bought by other elder care companies.

Interestingly, even though their presence and marketing is highest in metro cities like Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai and Hyderabad, many orders placed via Amazon are delivered to cities like Lucknow, Patna and Muzaffarabad. These orders, he believes could be placed by people in metro cities for their parents in the Tier-2 cities.

Retirement homes too are working towards “allowing our residents be seamlessly connected with their loved ones,” confirms Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities. “The data available to the family will include information on physical activity, social engagements and medical well-being.” However, “How much of this information our residents wish to share, they will decide themselves.”

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 9:02:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/need-help-taking-care-of-elderly-parents-living-miles-away-from-you/article30077323.ece

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