Responsibility of society to the elderly

Mohammad Anisur Rahaman | Published: January 06, 2018 00:09:22

The Division for Social Policy and Development Ageing of United Nations (2017) has revealed that between 2015 and 2030, the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals, the number of older persons worldwide is set to increase by 56 per cent from 901 million to more than 1.4 billion. By 2030, the number of people aged 60 and above will exceed that of young people aged  between15 and 24.

The numbers speak for themselves: in 2014, there were 868 million people over the age of 60 in the world - 12 per cent of the total population. By 2030, this will increase to 1.2 billion or 16 per cent of the population. Estimates made on the current trend suggest there will be 2.03 billion - 21 per cent of the population -- older people worldwide by 2050. By 2047, there will be more adults over the age of 60 than children under 16 for the first time in human history. This is a reality for developing countries today. Sixty-two per cent of people aged 60 and over live in developing countries and this is expected to increase to 80 per cent by 2050. (OECD, 2017)

Alienation of the elderly: Many factors contribute to the alienation of the elderly. They include: (i) Migration of young couples from the rural areas to cities in search of better employment opportunities. (ii) Old people who have been in control of the households for a long time are unwilling to hand over the responsibility to their children. (iii) Youngsters, on their part, are sometimes not well disposed of towards their parents. (iv) Young people move to places far from their native homes, and, in the recent past, to overseas countries. So even if they want, they cannot afford to stay with their parents in their own homes. (v) The elderly are sometimes too weak or unwell to look after themselves or manage medical care, especially in an urgent situation.    In fact, many people of the developing country become old well before 60, because of poverty, hard work, illness, malnutrition, etc. The life pattern is changing, kinship bonds are weakening and family composition is undergoing rapid transformation. With  a fast increase in the number of elderly population and under the condition of socio-economic transformation, the elderly population is experiencing a difficult time.

Health problems: Health and physical condition of the aged are never good in the poverty-stricken country. Sound health depends on good and nutrient-rich food, sufficient medicare and healing while stricken by diseases, knowledge about health and hygiene, good sanitation, physical exercise, recreation, mental peace, healthy environment and a happy home. In the present socio-economic condition of these countries, these health-related requirements are found to be deficient for most of the elderly people. The most common diseases are asthma, diabetes, diarrhoea, peptic ulcer, blood pressure, cardiac diseases, arthritis, paralysis, dental and eye problems. They also suffer from dementia, insomnia, urinary complications; psychosomatic diseases etc.

There are a significant number of aged people who are disabled, invalid and lonely. Their health conditions are more or less alarming. Most of them are physically unfit and incapacitated. Some of them have no earning members in the family. And that is why they are being forced to engage in hard work or even in begging, which naturally adds further strain to their poor health.

Psycho-social problems: Apart from various inevitable medical complications of old age, there are associated psycho-social problems too. Physical weakness, social isolation, lack of care from children, and dependence on hired familial help makes them more vulnerable to violent crimes due to their material possessions. They feel unwanted in the family, society as well as the state.

The elderly population is a vulnerable group in our society, because like many other developing countries, there is hardly any social security system for the senior citizens. Any downswing of the economy and soaring prices of essentials put them in an adverse situation.

Old homes: A retirement home is a multi-residential facility intended for senior citizens, which is normally called an old home. In old homes, senior citizens face a 'drought' of love and care as their children abandon them.

Old homes are fast becoming the last resort for the elderly. Shunned or abandoned by their families, many senior citizens face the spectre of a lonely death at such homes, with staff attending the last rites and funeral proceedings. Often, the elderly are reluctant to visit their families, the homes they have built for their children.

Need for framing both national and international policy: However, in the light of a study on the status of the elderly people, we can recommend the following steps for their welfare: (1) The government of a welfare state should ensure the basic needs of the aged persons, such as food, health, clothing, recreation, shelter etc. for the betterment of the elderly by implementing social policy for the underdeveloped and developing countries. (2) The government and society should provide them with good and favourable environment for their psychological support through love, affection, respect, nursing, and ensure social status, respect, economic security, self-reliance and a tension-free living. (3) The families concerned, especially the poor ones, are required to be economically empowered and enabled to provide required food, nutrition, clothing, housing and medical care to the elderly. (4) The subsistence allowance programme for the very poor, distressed, infirm and disabled elderly persons, initiated by the government of some countries, is a very good step to help the particular group. This programme should be intensified and gradually expanded to cover all the aged persons. (5) Special provisions should be made for ward/bed for the aged patients at all government hospitals. The government and private hospitals/clinics may also be instructed to give priority to and special care for the treatment of the aged persons. (6) The government of those countries may issue 'Health Cards' to the aged people for their proper medical treatment free of cost or at subsidised rates at all hospitals and clinics. (7) The government may establish 'Nursing Homes' for the aged people in all union health centres to provide for temporary shelters in order to help them get medicare services, counselling services, recreation, reading facilities etc. (8) The aged persons should be declared 'senior citizens' all over the world, thereby giving them a dignified social status and recognition. (9) Family members should look after them with respect. (10) The government should ensure that the aged are looked after by their family members. Or else, the family members will be penalised by  social exclusion and denial of national advantages. Governments should frame an international policy for the care of the elderly under the United Nations. The focus of the policy should be on preserving the dignity, independence and autonomy of the elderly persons in the context of family and community in such a way that aging will be treated as a positive and fulfilling phase of life.

The writer is a PhD fellow, International Affairs and Global Governance, School of Public Affairs, College of Public Administration, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China. And Assistant Professor (Study Leave), Dept. of Sociology, BSMRSTU, Gopalganj, Bangladesh. anisrahaman01@gmail.com

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