Population aging is a global issue, which has been recognized to have implications on the health care and social welfare systems. The process whereby the proportion of children in the population decreases and those of old people increases is known as the “aging of population”. The global population of the elderly has constantly been increasing during the second half of the last century. This has been possible due to the easy availability of life-saving drugs, famines’ control, various communicable diseases, better awareness and supply of nutrition and health facilities, and a comparatively better overall standard of living. These achievements have resulted in a drastic reduction in mortality rates and a substantial increase in the life expectancy at birth and the overall span of people.
What is Aging?
Aging is a continuous, irreversible, universal process, which starts from conception till the death of an individual. However, the age at which one’s productive contribution declines and one tends to be economically dependent can probably be treated as the onset of the aged stage of life. Old age is the last phase of the human life cycle, which is again universally true. UN recommended 60 years as the age of transition for the elderly segment of the population, and has been categorized as follows:
- Young Old- between the ages of 60-75 years
- Old-Old- between the ages of 75-85 years
- Very Old- 85 years and above.
Disabilities in Old Age
The disabilities that a person experiences in the course of aging are multiple in nature. For some, aging enhances the status and enriches life satisfaction, but for many others, it may be difficult and problematic. On one hand, getting old provides an opportunity to relax, enjoy and do things they always wanted to do but never had the time for when they were young. On the other hand, old age also implies increasing physical, mental, and psychological disabilities. Such disabilities are the result of many factors. With the increasing age and decreasing health, the older person begins to depend unknowingly physically and psychologically on either the kinship group or the existing social support network.
Since independence, the Indian government has been committed to supporting the old people in our society with certain interventionist welfare methods. The year 1999 was declared by the UN as the International Year of Older Persons followed on 13th Jan 1999, by the Government of India approving the National Policy for Older Persons for accelerating welfare measures and empowering the elderly in ways beneficial to them. Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 provides legal sanctions for the rights of the elderly. In addition constitutional provisions for old age security, old age pension, establishing old age homes, expanding geriatric services, and liberalizing housing policy for elders have also been undertaken.
Role of Old Age Homes
The concept of the old age home, though not very common in India, is not unknown. The first old age home was established in Bangalore in 1983 by the Bangalore Friends-in Need society and was called the ‘(obb Home)’. According to Help Age India estimates, there are 728 institutions at present, perhaps a majority of them in urban areas. Kerala has the largest number of old-age homes. More than 60 percent of the old age homes in India are of the charitable type, meant for destitute or very poor persons. About 20 percent of them are of the ‘pay and stay’ type and another 20 percent are mixed. About 15 percent of the homes were for women exclusively. In recent years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of old age homes and they are gradually gaining acceptance, especially by those who see these institutions as a better alternative than living in a son’s home where you are not wanted. There is a debate going on in India at present among seniors’ organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and others about whether this growth should be allowed, supported, or curbed. There is a strong feeling that the proliferation of old-age homes would make it easier for children to shirk their responsibility for taking care of their aging parents by placing them in institutions.
Despite the government’s and NGO’s efforts in rehabilitating the aged in India they are still the most vulnerable group facing multiple problems and hence require proper care and attention. Aging is a natural process. ‘Old age is an incurable disease’. But more recently J.S. Ross commented, “You do need old age, you protect it, you promote it, and you extend it”. A man is as old as he feels and a woman as old as she looks. Hence there is a need for proper care and protection for the elderly in the changing scenario.