Bangalore might have once been labelled a ‘pensioner’s paradise’ but the recent case of Anantaiah Shetty — a 93-year-old man who was chained on a terrace for extended periods of time by his family — has cast light on the several issues faced by senior citizens today.
In Shetty’s case, his son and daughter-in-law maintained that it was much too difficult for them to look after him at all times. Unfortunately, they are not alone — helplines that cater to the elderly in the City register an alarming number of calls that complain of neglect, harassment, ill-treatment and financial disputes. Apart from these, there are also plenty of nuclear families that simply don’t have the time, money or inclination to provide round-the-clock care for their parents or grandparents.
“Largely, this attitude can be attributed to their hectic lifestyle,” explains Shaji Philip, from Advantage Elder Care, a home for senior citizens. “It was much easier to take care of the elderly in a joint-family set-up. As it is, most couples these days are working and don’t want to leave their parents alone at home due to safety concerns. It’s even more difficult for those who have to travel for extended periods of time,” he adds.
Apart from the inconvenience angle, he goes on to add that many senior citizens have medical conditions that require special care, which their children might not be in a condition to give. “And let’s not forget, an 80-year-old man’s children are probably around 60 years old themselves. They have their own share of ailments to attend to,” says Shaji.
But contrary to popular perception, the City does offer such senior citizens different options.
Advantage Elder Care, for instance, is a paid home in Yelahanka where inmates are provided with round-the-clock care, qualified nurses and doctors on call, for a charge of Rs 12,000 per month.
For those who don’t have financial support coming in from pensions or their families, there are alternatives. Institutes like the Gandhi Old Age Home, situation on Magadi Road, cater to exactly such people. “While some of our inmates are brought here by their families,” says C Ugraiah, the secretary of the home, “there are several who have either been abandoned or have run away from their homes.
Many of them end up at police stations or NGOs, who counsel them and investigate the circumstances that have brought them there. If there is no chance of reconciliation with their families, they are brought here. Some of them have gone through abuse and often, don’t have financial resources. So they stay here for free. ”The accommodation might not be luxurious but it’s more than sufficient for someone looking for a home. Vedantha Iyengar, a senior citizen who lost his eyesight and immediate family nine years ago, heard of the institution in the local news and had himself admitted here. Soon, he began to a lend an active hand in ensuring that the home functions smoothly.
“At present, there are 75 inmates here. Some of them are bedridden, others are physically-handicapped and many have been abandoned. But we are all provided with nutritious food, with special provisions for diabetic patients,” he says, adding, “everyone pays only according to what their pockets permit.”
In cases of abuse, neglect or harassment, senior citizens have another avenue to fall back on. There are several helplines targeted exclusively at them, through which they may register complaints and seek the necessary redress. Dr Radha Murthy, the founder of Nightingales Medical Trust — which operates one such helpline — explains that they receive around 30 calls everyday.
“Around 57 per cent of them have to do with intra-familial problems, such as harassment, ill-treatment or property disputes,” she says. “Once we register a call, we ask the caller to come to the office and hand us a written complaint. We visit their homes and try to understand the situation. In some cases, we call their family members to the office in the hope of reconciliation. The helpline is based at the police commissioner’s office which is an advantage — a little mild pressure always works,” she adds.
In cases where there doesn’t seem to be any hope for amicable settlement, she explains that legal recourse is always an alternative. “Now that the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act has been enforced, this option exists. If nothing else works, we consult our legal advisors on what is possible,” states Radha.
This, of course, is a last resort. “We do provide counselling facilities first. The problem is that the elderly are often unable to adjust to the new lifestyle and their children, in turn, can’t understand why. There is a rift, which can be solved only through sensitisation of the subject,” she concludes.