Hazards of being elderly and alone at home

Hazards of being elderly and alone at home

A recent survey has revealed that India has the highest number of elderly people. But more importantly, elders are left to fend for themselves, making them easy targets of criminals and others who want to take advantage of their loneliness.

Bangalore has thousands of such senior citizens and elderly couple — alone and vulnerable.

While decreased mortality rates due to improved nutrition, sanitation and health facilities have increased life expectancy — as a study by the City-based Nightingale Medical Trust reiterates — it has ironically worsened the isolation of the elderly.

The changed lifestyle of the new generation has radically altered the family systems and relations, directly affecting the elderly, explains Radha S Murthy, Managing Trustee of the Nightingale Trust, a City-based organisation working for senior citizens’ care.

With most elders left to fend for themselves as their children are away in pursuit of their careers, the issue of loneliness and security has increased. Senior citizens find it tough to adapt to the changed circumstances. Besides security issues, they have to deal with their deteriorating health, physical or mental abuse, psychological problems and financial issues.

Many elderly people live in large houses and do not easily mingle with neighbours. They tend to appoint housekeepers without  checking their antecedents and become increasingly vulnerable to crime. Old-age health problems such as arthritis, dementia and inability to walk, to mention a few, are common.

Most of these being chronic problems, the elderly find it difficult to reach hospitals because even his/her spouse is old. Even if they are taken to hospital, there is nobody to look after them. Besides, the increasing drug prices have also contributed to their woes.
Senior citizens are also susceptible to cheating, abuse (physical or mental) by their children who have abandoned them, and their relatives (over property disputes).

They are also prone to psychological problems. In most cases, when an aged person retires, he/she has no job and nobody to tend to him/her. With friends gone and having no hobbies to keep themselves engaged, they become emotionally upset. Financially, not many of them are pension beneficiaries.

However, solutions do exist to some of these issues. “They can be secure if they stay in a community and move along with the younger generation. But they tend to live with people of their generation, which makes them more vulnerable to crime,” notes Murthy.
The Trust had started a helpline alert system for senior citizens, but it failed to take off due to lack of awareness.

All that the elderly required was a landline telephone (BSNL) connection. In case of any threat or danger, they just need to pick up the receiver and the alarm will ring at the police control room. They will in turn alert the local Hoysala or volunteers ready to help them. Loneliness is the root cause of many problems elderly people face, says S Premkumar Raja, Trustee and Honorary Secretary, Nightingales Medical Trust.

Raja says the problem is more with men than women. He explains: “While a wom­an remains preoccupied with her daily chores, men face a series of proble­ms once they retire and find no work to do.”

Elders want people to come and talk to them, he said. He cited the case of a senior bureaucrat who had settled in Bangalore after his retirement. Having spent all his life in North India, he had no friends around to spend time with.

His only son moved abroad with his family leaving the couple alone in the city. Things went on smoothly for a few months till his wife took ill and he found himself battling against the odds all alone.

This led him to depression. “A sizeable number of the elderly people today confront a similar situation in metropolitan cities,” says Raja.

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