The world is slowly moving towards an older people dominated demography. Two major drivers in this regard are lesser fertility and increasing life span. Average life expectancy that stands at around 70 years today is likely to go beyond 80 years by 2050. As per estimates of World Population Prospects by the United Nations, proportion of population above 65 years of age by 2050 is expected to be 16 per cent (1 out of every 6 persons) compared 9 per cent (1 out of every 11 persons) today which is quite steep by any standards. Few countries that have high population of elderly (with age of 65 plus) include Japan (29 per cent) and Germany (22 per cent). For the first time by 2018, population above 65 years has exceeded that of children below 5 years. By all estimates, growth rate of elderly in coming decades is going to be faster than any other set of population and that could lead to many issues and problems.
Since last 3 decades or so, world at organized level has understood seriousness of prevailing precarious situation. Even the United Nations has taken cognizance of the scenario and in 1991, it adopted principles for protection for elderly. Eighteen (18) entitlements for older persons were thus enunciated. For celebrating rights of older people, October 1 each year is recognized as “International Day for Older Persons”. The fact however remains that we have miles to go in terms of investments towards public security and welfare systems for elderly people in all parts of the world.
In India, the situation is no different. Total number with 60 years plus is around 139 million comprising approx. 10 per cent of total population. This is likely to go up substantially to around 20 per cent by 2050 with an absolute figure of around 319 million. This means by 2050, one (1) in every five (5) persons in India will be an elderly person. This is an alarming statistics. With scarce public spending on elder care, absence of social security and lack of pension and other support system, elders are going to be in a very difficult situation in days to come. And that essentially means that population and society, at large, are also going to be in difficulty to sustain pressure of elder care.
Roles of Stakeholders:
The above scenario calls for urgent actions by various stakeholders that include government, society and elders themselves. All of them must play their bit to tackle the challenges looming large on scene. Lack of initiative by any single stakeholder may jeopardize the whole scenario. Some of the important steps to be taken by various stakeholders include:
1. Government and Lawmakers:
a. Enactment of appropriate social security system (including minimum pension of Rs 5,000/- per month and a guaranteed subsidized infrastructure towards medical and other related expenses).
b. Promulgation of laws and creating strong statutes so that elders feel safe and secure and are enabled happy aging wherever they chose to live.
c. Creation of adequate old age homes at affordable cost to suit requirement of all types of elderly.
d. Creating elder friendly physical infrastructure at all public places including transportation so that elders are comfortable.
e. Developing a support system at all places that are conducive to peaceful living for elders.
2. Society at Large:
All stakeholders in society other than seniors must play an active role to ensure that elders lead a productive, happy, and peaceful life in their 3rd and 4th states of aging. Main responsibilities in this include those by:
a. Family members by creating a happy family environment.
b. Children and young people by respecting seniors in real earnest.
c. Service institutions like banks / post offices / pension centers through meeting needs of elderly with courtesy and expeditious speed.
d. Hospitals by creating special geriatric wings to take care of special needs of elderly.
e. Creation of special assisted living places for mentally challenged and cognitively impaired elderly including those suffering from Alzheimer’s / Dementia / Parkinson’s.
f. All public / private transport institutions creating amenities as well as concessional services to elderly.
g. NGOs / civil society taking care of needs of seniors.
h. Senior citizen clubs and associations actively taking up cases of elderly and keeping them engaged.
3. Elderly People Themselves:
Equally important is role to be played by elders themselves as they are the beneficiaries and therefore, need to be extremely sincere in their reciprocation as well. They should actively and proactively behave in such a way that they themselves help in process of their own aging. Some of these steps could be:
a. Being physically and mentally fit through undertaking exercises / yoga / meditation and other related activities.
b. Keeping themselves actively busy and engaged so that negative emotions are warded off.
c. Trying to give back to society in terms of social work to the extent possible.
d. Consciously trying to remain socially connected with family / friends.
e. Focusing on spending a life of wisdom full of happiness with positive attitude with no regret.
All stakeholders have equally important and mutually complimentary roles to play in overall interest of all. These will facilitate graceful aging for elderly. This will also create a climate of mutual trust and happy feeling among all. Reduction of both financial and social cost will be another benefit.
The fundamental principle is that elders have lived their life and contributed maximum. It is now time for others to give back so that the seniors can age happily till their last breath by remaining active and peaceful. It is our duty to create right ambience not only in our surroundings but also in the larger context. In a world where there are going to be increasing number of elderly people in days to come because of advancement of science, challenges are enormous, and we need to live up to them.