Nothing grey about aging

EVERY BIRTHDAY is a special event. But, several families, these days, are attaching added importance to the birthdays of those who start to sport patches of grey hair and wrinkles.

Kerala, billed as the fastest `greying State', is on the way to set a record for the most number of `Shashtyabdapoorthi' (60 years) and `Sathabhishekam' (84 years and an extra toast to someone who has been able to witness thousand full moons) ceremonies in the shortest time span.

Kerala's unique position in the population scenario of the country has come about because of its higher life expectancy ratio, which currently is 69 years for men and 74 years for women. The ageing phenomenon is global in nature, thanks to the advances in modern medicine, but the bandwagon is rolling a bit too fast in these parts for the policy-planners to sit back and relax.

By tradition, the elderly have been regarded as repositories of wisdom and experience who are the unquestioned arbiters of a family dispute. The elders have come to be treated with a mix of respect, adoration and awe. However, the tradition has undergone a drastic overhaul in recent times due to various factors. Modernisation has not only increased longevity, but also altered the family composition and status of the aged in the family.

Aravind Thampi, researcher and consultant psychologist of the Centre for Psychological Services, points out that several studies have revealed that modernisation and urbanisation had contributed to a decline in the status enjoyed by the elderly.

The factors at play for this include the disintegration of the joint family system, increasing participation of women in economic activity, reduction in the availability of primary care-givers, transfer of power from the elderly patriarch to younger members and changing values and lifestyle.

Dr. Thampi feels that children should be taught to develop a positive attitude towards the elders, and he recommends that the orientation should begin at the school-level. The establishment of gerontological/geriatric services at centres in panchayats and municipalities (perhaps on a day-care basis) and constitution of self-help groups comprising people from all walks of life and ages, which would fill the vacuum of emotional, social and physical support, are recommended.

In fact, depression, paranoid reactions and hypochondria are quite common among the aged and should be properly addressed. As a few tips for the elderly, the consultant recommends a healthy lifestyle pattern that enhances psychological and physical coping skills, self-assessment, developing hobbies, keeping active, participating in community organisation and gaining economic independence.

By M. Dinesh Varma

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