Context: As per the United Nations Population Fund’s India Ageing Report 2023, it is projected that the proportion of people aged 60 and above will undergo a significant increase, doubling from 10.5% (equivalent to 14.9 crore individuals as of July 1, 2022) to 20.8% (approximately 34.7 crore) by the year 2050. This demographic shift, with one in every five people being a senior citizen, will have far-reaching implications for various aspects of society, including healthcare, the economy, and overall social dynamics.
Factors driving ageing: reduced fertility, migration and longevity due to better healthcare.
Facts related to elderly in India
- Most states in South reported a higher share of elderly population than the national average in 2021. #due to population control measures & reduced fertility.
- A special case of Kerala and West Bengal – there is a growing population of the elderly who live alone as children migrate for better opportunities.
- Women elderly citizens outnumber their male counterparts. (If women in India do not have economic and social security, they will become more vulnerable in old age).
Issues associated with elderly population
- Healthcare: Many elderly individuals in India have limited access to quality healthcare services, especially in rural areas. The healthcare infrastructure may not be adequately equipped to address the specific health needs of the elderly. Moreover, the elderly population in India is increasingly susceptible to chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and arthritis. The management of these conditions can be costly and challenging, particularly for those without health insurance. #Non-communicable diseases.
- Mental Health Issues: Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, are often overlooked among the elderly in India. The stigma surrounding mental health issues prevent them from seeking help or receiving adequate support which ultimately leads to depression and anxiety. # one in five elderly citizens are facing mental health issues.
- Insufficient financial support: A significant portion of the elderly population in India does not have a stable source of income or retirement savings. This financial insecurity can lead to a diminished quality of life, especially if they are dependent on family members for financial support.
- Vulnerable to abuse & crime: Elder abuse is a growing concern in India. This includes physical, emotional, financial, and neglectful abuse of elderly individuals, often by their own family members. The lack of awareness and support systems for victims exacerbates the problem.
- Isolation & Loneliness: Many elderly individuals in India experience social isolation, as they may live alone or far from their families. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, affecting their overall well-being. # due to Ageism, Migration of children and Gap between generations.
- Inadequate Geriatric Care: There is a shortage of geriatric care specialists and facilities in India. This hinders the delivery of specialized care and services tailored to the unique needs of older adults.
- Rural-Urban Disparities: There are significant disparities in the living conditions and access to services between elderly populations in rural and urban areas. Rural seniors often face greater challenges in accessing healthcare and social support. # 73.3% elderly lives in rural areas.
- Challenges posed by technology: Elderly citizens may be more susceptible to online scams, phishing, and other forms of cyberattacks due to their limited experience with online security. They may also have concerns about their personal information being stolen or misused.
- Lack of access to government schemes due to limited awareness about various programmes and initiatives run by government.
- Considered as liability: In modern societies, there has been a shift from extended families to nuclear families, which may have limited capacity to care for elderly parents due to factors like work commitments and limited living space and they are sent to old age homes or care facilities by their children or family members.
One of the most valuable asset for the nation
- Cultural Preservation: Elders are keepers of cultural traditions, languages, and historical knowledge. They can play a vital role in preserving and passing on cultural heritage to future generations.
- Wisdom and Experience: Elderly individuals have a wealth of life experience and wisdom. They have witnessed history, faced challenges, and gained insights that can be invaluable to younger generations. Their stories and experiences can help guide society in making better decisions.
- Role in environmental conservation: Vandana Shiva is a Delhi based eco feminist and environmentalist. She is a Gandhi follower and is well known for her efforts to protect forests, conserve local biodiversity, and organize women’s networks. Medha Patkar is a famous environmentalist and is well known for her role in the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA).
Need of the hour
- Strengthening of Intergenerational Bonds: Encourage activities and programs that bring different generations together, such as intergenerational learning, mentorship, and community events. # Maitri, set up in India in 2019, connects older individuals suffering from loneliness and depression with orphaned children lacking role models or parental support.
- Accessible Healthcare: Ensure affordable and accessible healthcare services, including geriatric care, and establish mobile clinics for rural areas.
- Financial Literacy: Promote financial literacy programs to help seniors manage their finances and investments effectively. # RBI has developed tailored financial literacy content for five target groups’ viz. Farmers, Small entrepreneurs, School children, Self Help Groups and Senior Citizens that can be used by the trainers in financial literacy programmes.
- Employment opportunities: Promote part-time and flexible job opportunities for the elderly who wish to remain engaged in the workforce. It will empower them financially.
- Digital Inclusion: Promote digital literacy among the elderly to help them stay connected, access online services, and benefit from telehealth options. #HelpAge India, with support from Google, has launched a significant initiative to empower 50,000 elders across the country with digital safety knowledge.
#Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and the Political Declaration adopted at the Second World Assembly on Ageing in April 2002 mark a turning point in how the world addresses the key challenge of “building a society for all ages”. The Madrid Plan of Action offers a bold new agenda for handling the issue of ageing in the 21st-century. It focuses on three priority areas: older persons and development; advancing health and well-being into old age; and ensuring enabling and supportive environments.
Improving the situation for the elderly population in India will require collaboration between government, civil society, communities, and families.
There is a need to foster a culture that values and respects the elderly is fundamental to achieving a more inclusive and supportive society for all generations, to fulfill the transformative promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ‘Leave no one behind (LNOB)’.