Elderly population in India is the worst victims of changing the social, economic and cultural milieu. Family as basis of Indian society is no longer strong and safe and secured for the elderly because of changing structure, process, function, and role-relationships among members in the family. Broken’s family norms do not permit special care for elderly as desired in the critical stage of life. Once who devotes and sacrifices for the family are left from the family. Living together with their offspring has been derided. A significant portion of them (having financial ability) has chosen old age home for their rest of the life. But it is nothing but an orphanage home for elderly. Various studies and reports revealed that almost 15 million elderly Indians live alone and three-fourths of them are women. It had been stated that ‘in rural areas, 28 lakh elderly women live an alone while in urban areas 8.2 lakh elderly women live alone.’ From another survey report on 10000 elderly people across 20 states conducted by Agewell Foundation(Delhi-based NGO) in 2018, it was gravitated that 23.44% elderly was living alone in the country. It also reported that about 48.88% of them were living with their spouse and about 26.5% of them were living with their children or families. The ratio of rural and urban elderly living alone is 25.3 : 21.38. Therefore, there is a trend of becoming orphan at last stage of the life. The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest burden to increase this number of orphans and their agony.
Now who the elderly orphans are. Scholars(gerontologists) define that ‘elder orphans as aged, community-dwelling individuals who are socially and/or physically isolated, without an available known family member or designated surrogate or caregiver.’ Therefore, these populations are in socially non-connected and their social network is truncated. It has become crucial in their later life as well as it is a prime hindrance of successful aging. They have to live with agony till upto their last days of life.
This circumstance of living leads several problems in their lives. They live alone and feel lonely. It causes risk of performing everyday tasks, higher risk of acquiring cognitive illnesses, cardiovascular disease and increased rate of mortality. Their social isolation leads to medical complications, depression, and a decrease in function and mobility. They are being abused physically, emotionally and financially. Above study showed that two-third of them is financially dependent (only 36.81% of them were financially independent). Due to lack of legal support, they have to face different harassment in their daily lives.
Elderly population is experienced and more respectful resource of a Nation. Their interest should be protected varying with the changing scenario. Family and State should provide them affordable, safe and comfortable living places, quality health services at door step, financial security and elder friendly transportation systems. Their wisdom and experience should be respected and there is urgent need of connectivity to family, friends, communities, and social support groups.
When we would understand their life long contribution, it should be prioritized with immediate action. A healthy and developed nation directs the care of elderly.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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