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Covid-19 and Beyond: How to Support India’s Elderly During the Pandemic

Representative image.

Representative image.

While several elder care facilities exist in different shapes and forms in the country, it is at best a fragmented ecosystem. It is both urgent and imperative that we focus on the fundamentals that can facilitate a more sustainable ecosystem for the older population.

Tara Singh Vachani
  • Last Updated: August 1, 2020, 11:16 AM IST
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Most of us either have elderly parents living separately or know of elders in our neighbourhood living on their own.

The pandemic has brought their biggest challenges to the fore – a fewer opportunity for social connect, lack of support to manage their day to day life and inadequate mechanisms to manage chronic health conditions.

This has made seniors and their families feel highly vulnerable and anxious.

Why should a young nation care?

India, one of the world’s youngest nations has been celebrated for its demographic dividend. Unlike nations such as Japan and many parts of Europe where the ageing population is at the forefront of conversation, the size of our 120 million strong senior population hides in our youth-obsessed society’s plain sight.

But this is a cohort which needs focus. For instance, of these 120 million, 40 million have vision-related problems, 3.7 million have diabetes and 1.7 million have cardiovascular ailments. A report by the United Nations Population Fund says that India’s senior population will grow to 173 million by 2026 and constitute 34% of its people by the end of the century. This is too large a base for a country to ignore.

Why we need structured senior care?

While several elder care facilities exist in different shapes and forms in the country, it is at best a fragmented ecosystem. It is both urgent and imperative that we focus on the fundamentals that can facilitate a more sustainable ecosystem for the older population.

Specific plans need to be put in place to look after the elderly population which also can mean an opportunity to derive potential economic value from this segment as well. For example, the elderly in India lack common spaces that have ageing friendly design (anti-skid tiles, handlebars, rounded edges, ramps to replace stairs, etc), transportation that is easy to use with low seats, and specialised healthcare personnel and wards. Furthermore, as the concept of pensions perishes with the free economy, seniors need retirement centric financial solutions catering to longer life expectancy.

There are lessons we can learn from other countries that have done this successfully. Japan, for instance, has set up a welfare state that offers a comprehensive social care system for the elderly by assessing their needs and providing customised solutions, also creating job opportunities in the senior care industry.

Why now, more than ever?

The problems faced by seniors due to a sudden and prolonged lockdown brings certainty that the need for professional assisted care services is immediate. Access to senior care facilities is a great way to ensure seniors are taken care of, while maintaining their privacy and dignity of life. It can help a large number of elders adapt to living with the pandemic by taking additional steps to ensure safety.

Small additions like sanitisation stations, moving staff into their homes, redesigning social spaces for increased social distancing, etc. can improve their ability to stay safe yet happy. Technological support to ensure contact with family and access to counsellors can help ease their anxiety and maintain their mental health which is essential for their general health. Through assisted living services like Care Homes and Care at Home, seniors can get access to specialised facilities designed to offer constant care in a home-like environment, or very well, in the comfort of their homes.

The senior segment is undergoing a radical change in their lifestyle and needs. From being a sacrifice-all population, it has the aspiration and the financial means to fulfil their needs, spanning travel to investments to self-care. With the right policy support and suitable private sector investment and offerings, there is an opportunity for the senior care segment to find its rightful place in the social as well as an economic milieu.

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Tara Singh Vachani is the Executive Chairman at Antara.

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