The problems of a greying India

Oh, they are so cute!

Look at them! Aren’t they so pathetic?

It is so scary to think of old age!

The elderly and the very elderly evoke diverse reactions with feelings of appreciation, awe, apprehension and pity jostling with each other in equal measure.

Greying of their population is perhaps the most pressing concern for both the developed and developing countries. Life expectancy is increasing the world over. In India, it had been just 35 years at the time of Independence but is nearly 70 today. It is expected to go up further with development and better medical care. The US has a life expectancy of over 80. However, this is one statistic that doesn’t bring any cheer, because a longer life does not necessarily mean a healthy life, besides being fraught with social problems.

According to a report released by the United Nations Population Fund and Help Age, India had 90 million elderly persons in 2011, with the number expected to grow to 173 million by 2026. Of the 90 million seniors, 30 million live alone, and 90 per cent work for their livelihood. Women outnumber men in this segment with nearly three out of five single older women being very poor, and two out of three rural elderly women being fully dependent.

The care of the elderly has never been this complicated. It was not too long ago that they were automatically the responsibility of the children and the extended family. With the joint family system fast disappearing except maybe in smaller towns and villages, the care of elders has become a major social issue, especially since it involves a huge number of poor, who are entirely dependent on their children and don’t have any social security, medical insurance or free health care.

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If the old are worried about getting older and becoming helpless without care, the young are equally concerned about taking care of their elders given that they might not be living close, might not have the resources to nurse them in case of a serious illness… The problems are so diverse and genuine that they need to be addressed both individually as well as a social problem by the government and other agencies.

Often we try to find scapegoats or make unfavourable comparisons to justify social ills. As always happens with ‘development’, old institutions get dismantled before a viable alternative system is put in place. I am sharing a few here with my observations.

The demise of the joint family system is at the root of all problems.

Oh, how we love scapegoats for every  social ill! But wait! It is not true that the joint family system has disintegrated. According to a report, nearly 75% of elders  in India still live in joint families. It is another matter that they are more in the rural areas and among the poor and even then, not the perfect solution.

It is naïve to believe that we can have the ideal joint family back in place — even the not-so-perfect one we knew a couple of generations ago. Nor can we expect that it to be the panacea for all problems associated with elder care. The society and lifestyles have changed too much for this to be true.

The very poor, especially in the rural areas continue living in joint families, often with three or more generations living together due to economic reasons. but also due to a sense of familial responsibility. Also perhaps they have not been exposed to the modern concepts of individual space and freedom. Where the men need to migrate, the joint family takes care of the wife and children left behind and the latter in turn care for the elders. Even in cities, they live together or at least in close proximity to each other. Apart from this section of the society, the only successful joint family model can be seen in Saas bahu serials. The reasons urban joint families are breaking up are many and most are unavoidable:

  • Jobs are globalized
  • A ‘joint family’ today only means the parents of one of the spouses, which doesn’t afford the same advantages of the larger ones of earlier generations.
  • Unlike earlier, the elders don’t have absolute authority on family matters due to fast changing lifestyles.
  • Grandparents are discovering the joys of traveling and pursuing their own interests in their second innings.
  • Stressful lives result in frayed tempers when two generations share space which is often cramped in big cities…..and many more such reasons.

In cases where they do live together for whatever reason or no reason at all, the adjustments and compromises demanded of the members is very high. Often it is one generation — whether the younger or older – that makes the adjustments, putting tremendous pressure on it leading to friction sooner than later.

Why can’t old people just live their lives on their own instead of being a burden on their children? Look at the US. People work till their 80s, live alone well into their 90s. Why can’t Indians?

A very well-to-do woman  posed this question to me one day. Her reason? She had a very old father-in-law at home whom she obviously resented taking care of despite having a battery of servants to do all his work.

Why indeed, I thought. Why can’t lazy Indians be like their active counterparts in the US who go about working till their 90s? So I did some internet research and came up with these resources for the old. Just take a look:

  • Caregivers’ Resources which help in finding a nursing home or home caregivers, hospices, long distance caregiving and support for caregivers among other things.
  • Education, Jobs, and Volunteerism for Seniors
  • End-of-Life Issues like estate planning and hospice.
  • Grandparents Raising Grandchildren get help of various kinds.
  • Health care facilities and nutrition.
  • Housing for seniors including reverse mortgages and in-home help.
  • Help to seniors in investing, tax counseling, estate planning etc.
  • Pension plans.
  • Travel and Recreation for seniors including discounts for train travel and travel tips.

Impressive, aren’t they? The catch is, you have to be a citizen of the US to benefit from the above schemes! With all talks of cuts in social security in that country and a lot of homelessness and poverty among the very old, there still is an existing constitutional framework  to deal with the problems facing elders.

By comparison – not to forget the huge difference in the size of geriatric population — we have a token number of state run old age homes which are in pathetic condition and some laws that are more of prevention of cruelty to seniors by family members. Of course discounts in railways and a slightly increased interest rates (provided they have the money to keep in the bank) are about the concessions they get. Reverse mortgaging has also been started, but many people are either not aware, or are comfortable about doing it.

I found an impressive list of social welfare schemes which includes many for senior citizens too. I think barring the Central Government Health Scheme, which is for Central government employees, there are no other comprehensive scheme for the others. Schemes like pension for senior citizens including farmers sound very impressive but how many are actually in place or working? And more importantly, how many are easily accessible for seniors, especially those who are not educated or aware of their rights?

One more thing, my friend: In India, parents consider it their duty to put their children through college – including professional courses like medicine and engineering — unlike in the US, where the children more often than not, finance their own education by working. With the cost of education going through the roof, many middle and lower middle class parents scrape the barrel to do it and are sometimes left with nothing except their pensions – that is, if they are in government service. Many parents sell their property to pay for the transit abroad for their children. So where will they live without help? Yes dear, it is still true for a large majority of the population, which is why they are forced to be a ‘burden’ on their children.

Today you ask any senior how they are and the only reply you will get is, ‘All I am hoping is to be active till I die.’ For, while it is possible to live on one’s own in old age when one is fit and healthy, if God forbid, something were to happen, what is the solution? Do we have nursing homes as in the US and other countries in the west? How fair is it to expect the children to nurse their elders?

It is no more an option for elders of either gender to put up their feet and retire after a particular age. Inflation and the lack of pension for employees of private companies and the self-employed have made it mandatory to work beyond 60. In rural areas and the lower income groups, this can go up even higher. Likewise, older women today run their homes and often have become global caregivers for their grandchildren.

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My neighbour and his wife life in an old age home and love it there. Why can’t more people do the same?

Sure! But the ones where old people can have that kind of community are too expensive for most people. Besides, the waiting list is miles long, even for moderately expensive ones. The government run ones are depressing besides being too few in number to cater to the burgeoning elder population.

To come….some ideas and suggestions

Other posts in the series:

To care or not to care. That is the question. 

Of orphanages and summer camps

The global joint family

Stop labeling elders, It sticks!

Images courtesy: Homepage: Swati Maheshwari

This page: Top- pixabay.com Bottom- www.thedalleschronicle.com

60 comments

  1. This article is two years old and obviously the situation has worsened. Adding to the already sad situation is elderly safety. Everyday attacks on vulnerable elderly is an issue of grave concern. When I read about the provisions for elderly in the US, I was left with pangs about the apathy in our country. World over, taxes paid by working citizens ensures they are taken care of in their old age. We , the working class pay taxes for God knows what! Indeed tough times await the elderly .

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    1. Though the western countries have a lot of welfare schemes in place, they are also dependent upon the money one pays for the services. Others that the state offers might not be commensurate with one’s expectations in terms of facilities offered. But yes, they have more options unlike here, where even private eldercare homes are scarce and cost the earth.

      I would be happy if you read the other posts in the series, as I have dealt with a range of issues pertaining to elders and their care.

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  2. […] THE PROBLEMS OF A GREYING INDIA […]

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  3. […] The Problems of a greying India […]

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  4. […] read the first, second and third parts […]

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  5. […] the earlier posts in this series here and […]

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  6. Yes, the problems are manifold and there are no straight forward answers. I think the answer lies in acceptance. Acceptance & maturity in a lot of things by both the young and the old. One of my close relatives lived in a joint family with in-laws all her life and unfortunately her marriage never was a happy one. She blames it all on the continuous interference by her in-laws. Today, the mother-in-law lies in a bed, unable to move, with nasal feed. The daughter in law looks after her like a child, but alas and inevitably, it is only because of a sense of duty.
    To me, if you are looking after your parents only because of a sense of duty or parents expect children to look after them due to a sense of duty, something is seriously wrong. For if I were to love taking care of my own parents, can I ever equate that emotion to a clinical ‘duty’.

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    1. That is such a sad situation, when love is gone and duty remains. Since your relative was compassionate, she is taking care of her mother-in-law as her duty. What if she had not been, but had decided that it was the best payback time? The abusers never think far ahead to realise that they might one day be at the receiving end. It is all the result of one’s invincibility and immortality, which makes either generation behave callously towards the other. The system of taking care of the son’s parents is slowly giving way to that of taking care of the daughter’s parents, at least in the south and notably among Tamilians. I think that it is the best way as there is no acrimony and demands. Thanks for the insightful comment, Asha.

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  7. Dagny · · Reply

    Today is the fourth time I am reading your post and the comments. I’m determined not to go away today until I have written my comment.

    One reason why elders are not independent with advancing age is because as a society we have not yet begun to realize that people live far longer than they did before. What I mean is, at 60 one is not as old as our grandparents were at 45. By the time a person retired earlier, he was considered to be nearly dead anyhow. All their kids needed to do was to wait for them to die.

    Which is awful, actually.

    That’s perhaps one of the reasons people don’t plan for their later years. They simply don’t expect to live long enough to need it- they think . But they do.

    Every one around them keeps showing them- consciously or not- that they are expected to vegetate after they retire because… well…. they’re OLD. And their productive life is over. And they should just devote themselves to prayers because they are about to be dead shortly.

    If my kids ever did that, I shall live until I’m 100 just to spite them. Oh the cheek of it! Its made me so mad! 😀

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    1. 😀 Dagny! Would love your attitude, though I am sure your kids would have no such ideas about their beloved mama. Did you read the post four times because it was too confusing? 😛 Yes, I love the comments, the readers are all so intelligent and add value to my posts. Especially Rachna, who speaks her mind without fear or favour.

      Though you have a point about elders not getting used to the idea of a longer life, it is not the only one. And youngsters today would love their parents out of their hair doing their own thing, that is, when they don’t need their help! But as you have rightly pointed out, they also secretly and openly feel that since their parents are past their prime, they should attend satsang and maybe watch TV!And one of the reasons many parents don’t plan for old age is because they have put their kids and their parents’ interests before their own, perhaps expecting the same from their children when they grow older. But when it doesn’t happen, either because they are denied or they shrink from asking, it shatters them. Oh, there are so many things to this problem and I wonder if I can do justice to it and sometimes wonder if I have mounted a tiger!

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      1. Well my dear friend, Durga’s ride IS the tiger. What else could you have mounted?

        About the other, you are right of course. People HAVE become a lot more self-obsessed than ever in the history of mankind. Somehow this desperation… the one I call ‘miss-the-last-train’ syndrome… irks me severely. Such narrow thinking… such a deep conviction of scarcity! This is certainly a western malady which we have bought into with a whoop of joy.

        Western ethos pivots on ‘one life… only life’ world-view. Given that premise, their desperation is easy to understand. Since you have only one life, you must cram every possible experience into it for you’re going to be dead forever.

        Us buying this premise… not overtly but subliminally and subtly… has been the most harmful of all attitudes we have adopted from the west. It doesn’t serve them and it will not serve us. Besides being a faulty premise to begin with… but that’s a matter of opinion… and is inadmissible as a valid argument. We’ll dispense with it, therefore.

        And people HAVE become rabidly materialistic. It isn’t merely a management cliche to say that people have learned to treat everything (and everyone) as a commodity… which obviously has a limited shelf value… and may be discarded when no longer of use.

        Blinkers, blinkers!

        And the worst of this is… even then they aren’t happy! In Hindi there is a saying which goes– “Murgi jaan se bhi gayi aur khaane wale ko maza bhi nahi aaya!” (The chicken lost its life needlessly because you didn’t even enjoy the dish.)

        In one of his plays Maugham says- “Your life is a work of art. What makes it even more complete is that the things you pursued with such devotion and passion were all paltry, inconsequential and transitory.”

        (I quote from memory so this can only be called paraphrasing at best)

        Somehow, that sums it all up for me.

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        1. Thanks for that first line of your comment! It has given me a great adrenalin boost to continue with the series. So you will be solely responsible for all further posts whichever way they turn out 😛

          Loved your miss-the-last-train analogy. (I must attend one of your workshops, by the way’ I could pick up a thing or two in my elder years 🙂 ) We do love our western friends. They borrow our philosophies, re-package them attractively and sell them back to us and we buy them. But when we buy, we fail to see that it is expired stuff and so we end up being made fools of when they tell us that they are going back to the original raw material, which they have by now appropriated as theirs. So the cycle continues. I am of the same opinion here as must be countless others. So we won’t dismiss it 🙂

          Loved both the murgi and Maugham quotes. Tell you what, I write my posts to get comments like this and all the other wonderful ones here 🙂

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  8. very well written post, Zephyr, and you have hit the nail on the head! these are certainly some of the gravest issues we are facing today, both, elders as well as youngsters.. and us in between. I read your post on the mob while travelling, and wasnt able to comment. now, commenting after reading your second post in the series, many of the things i wanted to say seem irrelevant, since you have dealt so well with them in that post. Yet, I just had to come back here and add my two cents 😀

    growing up and now living in a joint family, I still believe it is the easiest and best way to ensure the best for everyone, elders and children alike. What it needs, however, is a whole lot of tolerance, patience, and acceptance. above all, really wanting it to work. and all that compromise does eventually work out, at least i believe it does.

    as you have mentioned in your second post, the ashrama system works so well here, as a system of knowing when to take up what responsibilities and when to give up responsibilities too… that, unfortunately, needs a level of maturity far higher than we see in the average person these days, both young and old. I have both kinds in my family – those who want to hold on to the reins forever, as well as those who know when to hand on the reins to their children, and the difference in their quality of life is truly visible. All i can wish and pray for is that in a few years, when it is time for me to take on the role of an elder, i will hopefully be able to gracefully take on the role. but then, that remains to be seen, doesnt it? 😛

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment here despite your hectic travel over the past month, Anu! Your take on the joint family is interesting and perhaps the only one in favour of it. There are pros and cons in every type of living — alone, in a nuclear set-up, in a joint family, in an extended family…..How we make each successful depends on individual behaviour and perspectives. I will be taking this up in a later post. If we only understood and followed our ancient wisdom things would not be so bad. I think we will eventually, as the west has woken up to spiritual eldering and there are even workshops in this field today! It won’t be long before it comes here too!

      Just as we save for later years, we should also begin training to be elders in our younger years, so start 🙂

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  9. […] Read the first part of this series — The problems of a greying India. […]

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  10. Z – the elders are usually a forgotten segment. My limited knowledge Knows of schemes for the poor, umelployed or minorities but for the elders there is nothing.

    Also as a society, we dont plan for the future. There is no concept of prioritizing for saving for the future. People think of saving only until their kids educTion of mRriage. What happens next is irrelevant .
    My 2 pence on the whole this gwneration is selfish argument flies maybe for those who are well off and in those situations the solution is usually help, retirement homes etc. What about the middle class where a parent cant be blamed for wanting to use their limited resources towards their children over their parents

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    1. Great to see you here after so long, Nuts! The elders are not only forgotten but also neglected when they are remembered,and that is the tragedy. Like you, I am talking of the entire segment and not individuals as there are many privileged to be financially well off and others have family support. But there are vast numbers who have neither support and have no government help either. What of them? Which generation are you referring to as being selfish? Either or both? When the parents have spent all their money for their children, they were being foolish, not selfish. But if the children who have benefited by their parents’sacrifice shouldn’t they do something at least for them? If they quote the western model,there the children are on their own after they complete schooling and even then work part-time for their pocket money as Sandhya has pointed out. I think it is only fair that they help, don’t you?

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      1. Yes in an ideal world kids should and must help out their parents. I dont get how kids who dont sleep at night.

        But z the reality is today everyone is self centred. Idealism has taken a back seat. We will find a 100 reasons to justify our actions. And that is why for the sake of prudence, i think parents alsp need to be a tad bit self centred and plan ahead.

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        1. As someone had said in the comments, we have forgotten our roots and are drifting. For if we had done that we would still be following our ancient custom when elders handed over responsibilities and left home for spreading their learning and mentoring society. And the fast changing times have brought us to this pass. The elders are coming to terms but not fast enough, while the youngsters are doing so, chiefly because it is in their favour and also since it has become imperative. Oh, yes, parents should also think of themselves for the sake of their children 🙂

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  11. A very well researched post mami and lots of food for thought. Sorry for the late response but the way my schedule is going on right now, I lose track of whats going on around me.
    You know the varnashrama was designed so that each could fulfil his duties. The center of the village was of course the temple. The brahmacharis lived nearest to the temple, the grhasthas lived next, and the outer ring was for the vannprasthis or those who are not yet fully detached from the familial bondings. The forest housed those who were detached or the sannyasis.
    Now question is why the grhasthas were in the middle. it was because they had to support the brahmacaris as well as look after the vannprasthis. So in this way all the elderly were taken care of.
    Sorry for my two bits of vedic gyan but I couldn’t stop myself.
    We are a confused generation. what we are we do not know what we want is also not known

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    1. Sorry for replying so late, Bhagya. Thank you so much for the inputs on the ashramas of life. I had meant to put that in the next post and have too. And I have linked you in that post. The taking care of elders, the joint family, the old age homes, all will come in subsequent posts. Hope you will read and comment, even if late 🙂

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  12. Your internet research showed the positive steps the govt. is taking. All the points were so interesting. Then you say that these are followed in the US.

    We can never think of living in a joint family, hereafter. Both the children and parents have lost patience in this fast world. It is difficult for both of them.

    As you say, we give our 100% to bring up our children. We never expect them to do even part time job like they do in other countries. But we are like that! Only thing is, parents should save at least a bit for their old age and children should at least give the parents the moral support they need very badly. It is the duty of the govt. to help them (in the case of lower middle class people).

    We can just say, ‘parents and children, be responsible towards each other’.

    While reading, I wanted to write this and that, then all of them were covered later! Very good post, Zephyr! Take care.

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    1. Sorry Sandhya, this reply got so delayed that the next post has already been published! You have encapsulated all my posts in this series == written and yet to be written — in your comment 🙂 The two generations are indeed responsible for each other, but some reactions make me despair about it — from both generations. Thank for you liking the post. Hope you will like the next one too!

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  13. The reality of the modern era which woefully we are also part of…I think the present generation is selfish beyond reason and want the parents/inlaws only as caretakers for their babies and nothing beyond..they become free babysitters and get booted out as soon as the job is over!

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    1. I wouldn’t take a one-sided view as there are an equal number of elders who are selfish and demanding too. I would request you to please read all the posts in this series as I would be trying to put things in perspective from both viewpoints. Yes, this trend you are talkking of seems to be on the rise today as I have heard many older ladies complaining about it.

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  14. A very interesting and brilliant post. Such facilities for the elderly of the day are needed since children move on in life and there is a need to help prepare our elders to enjoy their time, by offering activities to be more active,
    Cheez

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    1. Thanks for liking the post, Vishal. We do need homes for elders in all social categories and good ones at that. I have seen the ones which are free or cost very little. It is more like destitute homes where they have shelter of sorts and indifferent food. Seniors deserve serious attention from the government too.

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  15. Today we cant think of joint families because we have become very self centred..living with others and looking after them brings many compromises to life , many dream to surrender and thats not possible in these times.
    And sometimes its too frustrating too..I can tell you about myself, been married for 40 years..my MIL is 95..and because of her I cant live a free life..sometimes it frustrates me that even after retirement I cant go and do whatevr I want.Earlier it was because of children and now because of her..So I wouldnt like to put my children in the similar situation.So any day i would prefer senior citizen living on their own with visits to children..come what may, it can be done if one has the resolve. Finance is not the only answer, because some people have money but they dont want to live alone, and sons also feel guilty.
    That way we have to change the mindset first

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    1. That is exactly what my posts are trying to address, Renu. There are so many of the older generation which is ready to live and are already living in senior communities. But I disagree about the money part. While many who have money expect to be taken care of by their children, there are many more who would like to live in comfort in an old age home. Unfortunately the good ones come at a very steep price which is beyond them. So they are forced to live with their children. It is good that the awareness has started but mindsets will be slow in changing.

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  16. Zephyr. I sit with all that you have written and the wonderful comments after that and wonder selfishly–mera kya hoga. I have strangely been worried that taking life too much in the flow has meant no planning for old age. Then I think of all the women who have grown old with no family, no savings and I wonder where they go. And the women who have lived bohemian lives–they?

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    1. Yes Bhavana. It is time to think of all those women and men too, who have no money, no family and abandoned even with a family. Come to think of it, money alone won’t help either. So it is time to take stock of what we are doing right and where we are erring and most of all what the state should be doing. And I do hope you will find something to take away from my post — and the comments of course 🙂

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  17. Great post. Will wait for suggestions ….

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    1. Thanks for reading, Priya 🙂

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  18. I still don’t understand why there’s a stigma attached to old age homes.

    Outside India these are called retirement communities where people of a certain age get access to round the clock medical facilities and care. With the break of joint family system, family scattered all over the globe, it makes more sense to be self-reliant.

    And don’t we all wish to be active till we die 🙂

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    1. I will be trying to say my tuppence worth about old age homes in a subsequent post, Purba. You have echoed what I have written about senior homes in western countries. There are specific resources available for seniors there which are not so hard to find or so exorbitantly priced as they are in India. Being healthy is all fine, but there can be cases of unexpected turns like an injury, an accident — that can make an elder a dependent. Oh yes, we all want to be independent and the only way to do it is be active and fit 🙂

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  19. A very well-balanced article, one that doesn’t really blame any single point – the usual being anything found on the path to progress – but rather a completely dysfunctional system that has been born out of chaos.

    One thing we can look at is countries like Japan or some parts of Europe, which are facing a negative population rate – more people dying than are being born – which means that the average population age is also rising. How the system is handling this growth can also be a lesson for all of us. Otherwise, comparing the East & the West is pretty much chalk and cheese – as you have rightly detailed. Hence, we have to come up with solutions that are unique towards our specific problems.

    There are families that I know of – not exactly joint – but one couple from each generation living in the same roof – with as many as 4 generations in one house. The youngest & oldest generations are the dependent ones: school-going children, both their parents & grandfather working, grandmother at home, taking care of the children, and her own parent(s)/-in-law. That there is no question asked about this structure is the amount of understanding all of them have about the situation at hand.

    The last sentence mentions a next post, so the rest of the comments will come then.

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    1. Good to see you here after a long time, Harshal and as always with such a pertinent comment. I would love to read up on the Japanese way of dealing with the problem. If you have a link, do share it with me, will you? There is no point in blaming anyone or anything. It is all part of the ‘development’ process and changing society among other things. I am deliberately avoiding the harsher side of elder care, but might touch upon it later because it is so important.

      The family you talk of sounds like a dream one. I am sure they have overcome their problems of sharing space and resources and found a middle path — one that lets them walk separately and yet in view of the others walking on the same path ahead and behind. It also helps that such a system is accepted as being normal and workable, which by itself is half the battle won. I am planning to write a lot more on the subject and hopefully in an objective way and with some clarity of thought 🙂 Looking forward to your inputs.

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  20. That was a detailed article on a very important topic. You said it. More often the case is not that the younger generation doesn’t want to taje care of elders but they aren’t able to because of various reasons cited in your post. Sharing.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Rekha. I remember the time your father was in hospital and how concerned you had been. That and so many more reactions like that made me give the intro 🙂 It is so easy to condemn the one or the other generation in such matters, but we need to look at all sides and reflect. Believe me, being a senior, it is both easy and tough for me to write a balanced article 😀

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  21. The insecurity of old age …and its side effects..but at least we have the wonderful option of gated communities of old age homes suiting our lifestyles.

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    1. Gated communities and retirement homes are all good for those who can afford them, Sunita. But what about those who are in the lower income brackets? A cursory look at the government run homes will make your toes curl. We need to think fast about what to do in the not too distant future. Do read the upcoming posts in the series. Looking forward to inputs from you on them 🙂

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  22. Excellent article and some very sound points there. Having two elder parents who live alone, I face this issue close at home. The seniors prefer to live in known surroundings and according to their wishes and routines. It is even tougher when their spouse has passed away and they have no one at hand fir care and companionship. It is even tougher for males who find it very hard to sit at home while life around them buzzes on. I have never lived in a joint family ever and I know that it is not a viable option for both the younger generation and the elders. Both want their freedom and adjustments are low on both sides. If possible having a parent living closeby in the samd city seems like the best option. That way one is close at hand to take care of health and also companionship while giving them the freedom to live independently. Health is another concern as private medical insurance is exorbitant for elders. Yet, nothing can ever justify deserting parents no matter how pertinent the concerns. How to provide them the right place to live and love is the dilemma of our generation. Would await your suggestions.

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    1. Your point was right on top of my mind when I began this post, Rachna, which is what made me give that blurb too. I remember your talking about both Gurdev’s mother as well as your father. The young are as concerned about their elders as the old are about themselves. I am trying to put the thoughts together for further posts. But before doing that, I want to write on old age homes and our attitudes towards them among other things. Looks like this may run into several posts. One thing I wouldn’t agree with you though, that living in a joint family would never work. It might not, in big metros for various reasons maybe, but it still thrives in smaller towns and rural India. How else do you suppose so many migrant labourers work in our cities living alone, sharing space with dozens like them? They know that their families back in the villages are caring for their wives and children. It is our fetish for space and privacy, not to speak of independence that make it unviable except of course when the help of elders is taken for granted, as pointed out by Jayashree.

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      1. Yes, I meant in the context of cities as well, in our strata to be specific, it seems an unviable option.

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  23. Very important topic. I have lived through some long experiences of a caregiver to my aging and very ill parents and know firsthand how emotionally challenging it is for both the caregiver as well as the parent needing care. Now that both my father and my mother-in-law live alone (after losing their spouses) I can see a whole other level of concern, both for me and my husband. At this point neither of them are ready to give up their own spaces/homes/independence, but every time there is a health concern the situation becomes difficult. Thankfully one of my siblings lives close to my father’s place. And my mother-in-law has reasonably good health and has good support in her extended family in the same town. But the fact remains – at some point they have to make the decision to move with one of their children. No idea how it will all play out.

    As my husband and I get older, this issue of greying is also beginning to take on a different meaning. The fact that we have no children brings interesting dimensions to it – both positive and not-so-positive. Well, we can only hope that time is merciful on us and we keep reasonably good health…..we can plan somethings but rest has to be left on higher forces.

    I think on the level of principle I am not against the idea of well thought out old age homes if people can get a life of dignity and care there, instead of neglect and abuse in their children’s homes. But somehow I feel most Indians aren’t ready for that yet. The hold of ‘what will zamana say’ is still quite tight in many quarters.

    And I agree, some serious thinking has to happen at the level of social policy in this matter. Only higher interest rates in banks and discounted rail tickets won’t cut it in the coming decades. I look forward to the ideas and suggestions in your follow-up posts.

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    1. Do you remember how I had been struggling to get the different and seemingly disparate strands together for this post? Well, the comments here are proof of how vast this topic is and I only hope I can deal with it some reasonable clarity. Parents who value their own space and refuse to relocate can be a cause for great concern, as even expressed by Rachna. Please allow me to reply this particular point properly in a later post, won’t you? Mindsets, ages old belief systems and thought processes will change slowly. But given the reality of today’s lifestyles and global Indians, old age homes need to be thought of more seriously than they are at present, which is why I propose to concentrate first on that before going on to the emotional and social aspects of old age. Will you believe if I told you that even such a small thing as concessions in railways is cause for cheer for such a large number of people in our country? Isn’t it pathetic that this should be so when they are entitled to so much more? A young population is the breath of fresh air that the tree breathes out, but the old are the roots. So unless the latter is in good condition, there will be no leaves and no fresh air, do you agree? Looking forward to interacting with you on subsequent posts 🙂

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  24. Neelakantan · · Reply

    Very thoughtful post. As someone pushing into the senior years, I think about it now and then. It certainly needs careful planning. Each culture has its own norms which play into the care of elders. Here’s a post by a cousin of mine that speaks to some of the uniquely Indian issues in aging – https://turtledge.wordpress.com/2015/04/18/the-difficulty-of-growing-old-as-indians/

    I have just finished reading Atul Gawande’s book ‘Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End’ which is about caring for older people when they become too ill. Medical treatment, nursing homes, hospices – these are all discussed very well.

    We must plan for our golden years or they will turn out to be not so golden. Independent or assisted living without being a burden to others may then be possible.

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    1. Planning for the senior years is easy when one is financially well off. It is only when it is not so that the problems begin. Because the same children who have risen due to the sacrifices made by the parents refuse to sometimes even support them financially leave alone physically. That is when the trauma begins, in the absence of any kind of social security cover or living facilities. Caring for the elderly when they become too ill is the latest of the problems being faced in our country because of the increasing life expectancy rates. With scarce facilities of nursing homes which can be easily affordable, it becomes a nightmare for the families. I have knows spouses in their 80s caring for spouses in the same age group, because they don’t have any other choice. Which is why I had specifically mentioned the resources available in the US in contrast to what we have in India. Thanks for reading and commenting, Neelu. I will surely read the post and give feedback.

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  25. jaishvats · · Reply

    Very often I read in forums especially women centric ones about how it’s the headache of in-laws to fend for themselves post retirement and use financial plans etc wisely . The so called need for space is not metting out fairness to everyone… This need for space is not considered when the grandparents are summoned to take care of the grandchildren sometimes to the extent of separating the aged spouses to serve two different families

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    1. You echo Suresh’s thoughts, Jayashree. I always leave some points unsaid when I do my posts because discerning readers fill them in with their comments :)I had thought this might end with one post, but looks like it can’t all be fitted into one, so I am writing another one which will deal with some of the issues touched upon in the post and the comments. Look forward to your fresh and youthful perspectives in those too!

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  26. I have never lived in a joint family to know its advantages personally although I do agree that having a supporting hand at home is always an advantage, emotionally and every other way.
    I would like to add here (as a little contradiction) that tempers flare from both sides. Not just young people but also seniors have little patience and adjusting abilities. Also, the age old issue of how to bring up our kids never ends.
    I have mixed feelings about old age homes. Some people there do look happy, but who can be really happy living away from family right? If children deliberately send their parents there, then well, they should foresee their future there too.
    I don’t have any idea about schemes for senior citizens, but what I do know is that our senior population is too big to ignore. If nothing is done till now then now is a good time to start.

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    1. One need not live with in a joint family to appreciate or denounce it apparently, Varsha 🙂 Just having a family other than the spouse is ‘joint family’ today! And of course, I have not said that the tempers of only the younger generation gets frayed. It works both ways and also, many elders today find it hard to be told that they know nothing of child rearing by the younger generation, which trusts friends and Google more to raise its kids 🙂 Don’t you think it is good to give at least a LITTLE credit to the older generation for wisdom in such matters? Old age homes are going to be the reality in the not too distant future, which is why my next post will focus on that.Hope to get your feedback and please feel free to agree/dsiagree/argue all you like. It adds to the value of the post when new viewpoints are presented 🙂

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      1. Not LITTLE Aunty.. I would give more credit than that. It is just that I have hit a dead end whenever I have asked for advice. I had A Jr’s experience the second time and it helped. But the first time I was very lost. Took me a while to understand that what wasn’t right for your kids is right for your grandchildren, and I’m wrong if I object too. It was kind souls like you who helped me out on some issues ☺
        Looking forward to your post Aunty.

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        1. Oh, I didn’t mean to sound censuring 😦 It is wrong to presume that one generation is right and the other wrong — each is struggling with new equations of authority and power. It is just as well that the conventional joint family is giving way to the loosely structured one, that affords space and privacy to the generations. I hope my posts will satisfy you at least to some extent 🙂

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  27. vijayaa108 · · Reply

    Yes all the points expressed and the questions raised are very very valid.
    One does not have answers and the only thing one can pray for and work towards is to maintain good health.

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    1. Maintaining one’s health is all fine, but who can predict a fall or an accident that might cripple one? What then? No, we need a complete change of mindsets, with a lot of changes in the public support system and social security systems. Otherwise it is not just going to be chaos, but a complete destruction of the society. Perhaps some would say, it is part of development!

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  28. Spot on about the Joint Family. It was easier for the entire family to stay together when the economic resources – land, shop what have you – were in common AND the means of earning a livelihood centered around the place you were born. You either owned and used your land, ran a commercial establishment in the vicinity or worked locally. Urbanization generally spells the death of the joint family.

    As for this thing about ‘Why don’t the old live independently as in the West?’, it is no surprise that it is raised. This realization about how wise the West is does not kick in when it comes to having your parents pay through their noses right up to a doctorate in some cases (even unto paying capitation fees to get you into courses that you have failed to get into by merit OR carrying you through years of studying in the USA because you failed to get assistantship), sponging on them because you have not managed to hook a job (or in some cases because you do not like the jobs that you do get)…oh no, then East is best 🙂 Comes the time when it is YOU who have additional responsibility because you are Indian, then the wisdom of the West dawns blindingly on you 🙂

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    1. It is virtually impossible to visualise a joint family system as in the past. We are so good at looking at things superficially and being bowled over by the gloss and consequently gloss over the faults, the aberrations the negative aspects. I remember reading an article about how the children are moving back to their parents’homes in the US for economic reasons. So when that custom becomes more prevalent, we will follow suit! 😀

      As for the parents supporting their children, the former does it as part of their duty and when one section discharges its duty, the other has the right to take the fruits, doesn’t it? 🙂 The only problem is that many among the young today are just looking at the present and are content in their own immortality 🙂

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  29. You’ve addressed the issue of a greying population really well. I am frankly one of the sandwich generation and am not dreading my old age because eventually it is something we have to face

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    1. Thank you for reading and the comment, Bellybytes.

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