– By Swadeep Srivastava, Founder – India Virtual Hospital and HealthMEX

With modern medicine pushing the boundaries of longevity, India is heading to a Japan-like situation where care for the aged would be an enormous social and economic issue. There is also a need to create an ecosystem like old age communities, interaction groups. And most importantly, children should re-learn to ‘log-in’ and interact physically and psychologically with parents.

With modern medicine pushing the boundaries of longevity, India is heading to a Japan-like situation where care for the aged would be an enormous social and economic issue. This is more so pronounced in Metros, urban India and aspirational Tier-II cities.

However, the issue of ageing and the elderly population does not have one solution. The dynamics of this population is so different that it would be foolhardy to find a common solution.

Normally, anyone above 60 years is considered old or a senior citizen. This could be correct for availing benefits, but not while dealing with socio-economic issues. This calls for a sub classification of senior citizens rather than putting them under one tight-fitting bracket.

One could classify senior citizens as Young-Old, Old-Young and Old-Old, depending on two factors: Age and health condition. And the healthcare and social needs of these groups are different.

The young-old are those who have just retired, but under the age of 70. They are healthy, thanks to modern medicare, agile, independent to a great extent. They have finished almost all their duties – children are off to work, married and lead their own lives. They now have time for themselves, except those who take to what is called ‘grand-parenting’ – a glorified name for taking care of grandchildren.

The old-young are those who have crossed 70 and under 80. The people in this group show signs of wear and tear as the cells in the body progressively start slowing or shutting down. But mentally, most people in this group are active.

The old-old are those who have crossed 80 and are generally physically worn out and mentally fagged out.

One reason why ‘senior citizens’ in the first two groups are mentally agile may be due to advancement in social media. Platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter keep their brains jogging constantly. Unlike in the past, they are not lonely – a cause for depression that leads to physical ailments. They are in touch with the world and the world is in touch with them. Surveys have even shown that men and women who lost their spouses are now daring to date in order to keep themselves mentally and physically active.

But children of the three groups tend to bracket all of them as just old. Surveys have revealed that there is a great divide between what the children think of the needs of their ageing parents and what ageing parent actually need for themselves.

According to a survey titled ‘Jug-Jug Jiyo’, about 67 per cent of adults living away from their parents are worried most about the health of their parents; however, only 10% of parents thought physical health to be a major concern.

The survey conducted by IVH SeniorCare in partnership with Wellness Health and You (Age Friendly India) served as an eye-opener in highlighting the gap in expectation and delivery between elderly and children.

The survey showed that only 10% elders consider physical health to be a challenge whereas 66% are worried about maintaining their social life and everyday needs. People with this aspiration came under Young-Old and Old-Young.

But the issue of Old-Old is of serious concern, especially when longevity leads to loneliness and isolation and there is a worrisome dip in quality of life. Many people in this group need support – physical and psychological. And the unfortunate part is that their children have their own set of worries and a life to lead leaving little time for the care of their elderly parents.

But fortunately, health care at home and senior care organisations have started addressing issues of health care and psychological support. Though most of the set-ups are in the unorganised sector, major players have started stepping in.

In a state like Kerala which is known for its nursing skills, most nurses are employed in multi-speciality hospitals outside the state or abroad, leaving nursing to untrained home maids.

In metros, there is a serious shortage for nursing care of the elderly and post-op patients. This needs to be addressed on a war footing. The only way out is through private-public partnership to prepare a roadmap for eldercare especially in the wake of nuclear family structure and migration of children to new geographies in search of career.

There is also a need to create an ecosystem like old age communities, interaction groups. And most importantly, children should re-learn to ‘log-in’ and interact physically and psychologically with parents.