How come we need NGOs helping the elderly? Indian society is less individualistic than many abroad, and we actually revere those older than us. However, the sad reality is that we are not as accommodating of our elders as we assume. HelpAge India recently put out a survey that indicated that 70% of elders surveyed in Bengaluru experienced abuse and mistreatment in public spaces. A lot of the elderly felt that they were mistreated because of property disputes, or treated rudely because they were badly dressed.
In more atomised societies, each generation lives on its own, independent of the other. In India, many generations live together under one roof, making this treatment harder for old people. They may not have other property to move to, or even independent incomes in their name that would allow them to live separately. The same people they cared for throughout their childhoods are now turning on them.
The report raises another cultural point – are we becoming more ageist? Ageism is defined as a bias against someone based on their age. Surely, there is a fair amount of ageism in society today. We put a disproportionate premium on youth, and celebrate their vitality. Everything should be new – phones, cars, technology, even political leaders. There is a perception that the elderly have no economic or social worth left anymore because they cannot be employed and do not have the strength of a younger person.
When it’s put like this, it’s easy to see that ageism may be spreading its wings without us realising. We’re forgetting that our elders are the ones that cared for us and shaped us to become the people we are. A lot of our successes in life would not be possible without the support systems they put in place. Should we disregard their contributions at the end of their lives simply because there’s money attached to it? The least we can do is treat our own elders better. Hopefully, we can also create a culture that looks down on those who abuse older people unnecessarily.
This is where NGOs working with the elderly step in to help. Essentially, they provide the support system and necessary goods that families would have provided earlier. Here are some of their programmes:
- Social support: Dignity Foundation organises clubs where elderly people can meet and spend time with one other to break their isolation. These are formally known as ‘Loneliness Mitigation Centres’, and help create a social identity and new social circle to interact with. For many of their members, it’s a chance to let their hair down, enjoy a lecture, movie or fun activity. If you live away from your parents or grandparents and are concerned about loneliness, we would recommend getting checking out their Chai Masti Clubs!
- Medical treatment: This is especially in the case of the extremely poor. HelpAge India organises mobile healthcare units that provide basic healthcare support to those in far flung areas. Rs500 from you from support cataract surgeries, physiotherapy services or cancer care.
- Ration Support: A number of people or couples end up abandoned or living by themselves with not much income. You can help provide them with monthly rations like rice, dal, oil and more by donating Rs1,250 to Agewell Foundation.
We hope for a day when we won’t need NGOs to care for India’s elderly. In the US, social isolation of elderly people is showing serious repercussions for the health and mental wellbeing. Our robust social systems can hopefully mitigate this pain for some people. Let’s prevent such situations from arising wherever we can!