Monday, 14 September 2015

Unlovingly Yours...

Global Age Watch Index, ranks India 71 among 96 countries, among the worst places in the world to grow old. 

India was ranked 71st out of 96 countries in the Global AgeWatch Index 2015 compiled by HelpAge International network of charities in partnership with University of Southampton in Britain.

Switzerland is the best place in the world to live for those aged 60 and over, while India, where 116.6 million people over 60 are living, ranks a dismal 71st among 96 countries when it comes to social and economic wellbeing of older people. For developing the Index, the researchers measured the lives of older people in four key areas: income; health; education and employment and the enabling environment.

India ranks low on the Global AgeWatch Index, at 71 overall. It performs best in the enabling environment domain (52), due to a low percentage of older people feeling socially connected (52 percent) and safe (66 percent) compared with regional averages (69.9 percent and 68.8 percent respectively),” the report said.

“The country ranks low in the income security domain (72), with pension income coverage (28.9 percent) and GNI (gross national income) per capita (US$4,991) below regional averages (49 percent and US$10,237 respectively),” the report said.

The annual index represents 91 per cent of the world’s population aged 60 and over, amounting to some 901 million people.

Switzerland (rank one) tops the Index, alongside Norway (rank two), Sweden (rank three), Germany (rank four) and Canada (rank five). Apart from Japan (8) all the top 10 countries are advanced countries in Western Europe and North America.

Countries investing in improving the lives of older people are at the top of the Index. They are implementing policies which promote social pensions, universal healthcare and enabling physical and social environments for older people, the findings showed.

“This Index is vital in representing the lives of older people in countries around the world as it enables us to compare not just their pension income and health but also the age friendly environments in which they live,” University of Southampton professor Asghar Zaidi, who led the development of the Index, pointed out.

“Today, in all countries of the world, the proportion of older people is growing. By 2050, 46 of the 96 countries in the Index will have 30 percent or more of their populations aged 60 and over. We have just 35 years to prepare,” Toby Porter, chief executive of HelpAge International said.

For more information visit the Global AgeWatch Index website.

Monday, 3 August 2015

"Nothing prepares you for being the daughter of ageing parents."

Old people’s wards are hell for old people. Geriatric wards are bedlam, bonkers, bananas. A toothless woman screaming when left alone, a cry that reaches the high hospital ceiling. A woman effing and blinding – the polite curtain will not protect her from the indignity of a nappy change. A woman who lives the same moment in repeat, dressed up for going home in a bright red anorak, over the dressing gown, asking for the key to her house, saying over and over: “Am I going home today?” Or a woman who shouts at the nurses: “Stop treating me like a plate of mince.” 
Earlier this year, my parents both ended up in hospital at around the same time and the cause was the same thing. Antibiotics. Or rather, dehydration caused by antibiotics. My mum was first; she was so dehydrated she was having visions. Antibiotics revolutionized the treatment of bacterial infections in the 20th century – but for old people they can dry the kidneys, give them fever, nausea, nerve damage and affect their balance.
Nothing properly prepares you for becoming a parent, true, but what seems to be even truer is that nothing prepares you for being the daughter of ageing parents. 
You want to save them from their bodies letting them down faster than their heads, or from their heads going faster than their bodies. There are classes for the mothers of babies, but there’s no helping with your parents getting older, the super-loud clock. It seems that you live in two lives at once; the clock keeps dual time. January, when my mum first went into hospital, seems ages ago now and, simultaneously, a heartbeat away. The months have collapsed and folded into each other like a foldaway bed.
That day in January, my brother, father and I waited for six hours for an ambulance and then I waited 30 hours with my mum in the acute assessment unit, having finally been given a bay. A holding bay. Everybody there was doing their absolute best, but Glasgow Royal Infirmary now has to cover the catchment areas of other hospitals whose A&Es have closed, such as Stobhill. Please complain, stressed staff said to me. 
The acute assessment unit was like Dante’s vision of hell: abandon all hope, ye who enter here. People lying on trolleys, wounded, bleeding, waiting, waiting, as new accidents arrive by ambulance. My mum, though delusional, held on to hope. Looking at an old man on a trolley wired to oxygen, she said: “Look at those two young lovebirds there. 

Illustration by David Foldvari.

 Illustration by David Foldvari.
Throughout that long night journey, she was moved from corridor to corridor to have various tests done. All of the staff were stretched, on 12-hour shifts, but still standing. “Jackie, am I one of the world’s refugees?” she asked me. After a few days, and still not back from the land of dehydration, she said: “What is this place? Why are some people leaving and others staying?” I said: “It’s a hospital, Mum.” “This isn’t a democracy,” she said. And I was astonished that the word democracy could have been saved in her mind and the word hospital not. She didn’t understand for days what a hospital was. “Where am I?” she kept saying, seeing visions of five-legged women, pandas and polar bears. She wondered if the hospital was an Eskimo station. I could see what she meant: the nurses far away in a white box, the uber-whiteness. Outside, the snow lay thicker than hospital blankets. It felt as if we existed in a limbo land in the far north, a place that existed to hold or to anticipate grief.
But gradually she returned, and realised the woman in the opposite bed didn’t have five legs, after all, and started trying to walk again with the help of a Zimmer. After three weeks, I left to go back home, and then my dad was taken into hospital too. He was in a single ward, like solitary confinement. And they couldn’t visit each other in case my dad infected my mum. So they wrote letters from ward 50 to ward 35 and an empathetic porter carried them back and forth on a steel tray, I imagined, like a heart.
And though my mum, by the time she was released, knew that her life was charmed compared with the lives of the world’s refugees, and would praise and revere the NHS, her question kept repeating in my head. It seems to me as if the plight of old people, while not as horrific as the plight of refugees, shares some of the horror. Just as we live in a society that hasn’t caught up with technology, the kind of moral choices it gives people, we also live in a world that hasn’t kept up with its ageing population. We have the advances in medical science and technology that have kept people alive longer, but not the advances in how to treat our ageing population. Society is lagging behind the old, floundering and failing and falling.
There are certain small but piercing  similarities between the treatment of the old and the treatment of refugees. The old are often displaced from their homes, moved out against their will; decisions are often made for them that they have no say over. Often, they are treated as imbeciles or halfwits, lumped together in one place, given clothes that don’t belong to them, treated as a fallen tribe or a beleaguered clan, incapable of any individuality. Nobody imagined my mother was a secretary of the Scottish peace movement, a primary teacher, a lifelong socialist, a witty woman. Out of hospital, my 85-year-old mum said: “Going into hospital at my age puts years on you. God save me from old people’s wards. You never think of yourself as old. You look across the ward and think, Am I like that?”
My dad wasn’t as dehydrated as my mum. My brother said: “Maw was on Pluto; Da, he was in Inverness.” I bought my mum a poppy-red Zimmer. She said: “You should have seen me in the hairdressers. All the old women crowding round my Zimmer. Talk about Zimmer envy. Zimmer rage, more like.”
When my dad came out of hospital, he’d lost a stone in weight and was withdrawn, as if he thought he was going to have to take his leave of the people he loved and couldn’t remain too close, like a cat. Then they discovered that he had helicobacter pylori and his weight loss was because of that, so he cheered up and even cracked jokes about his thinness. His backbone was poking through, giving him a sudden hunchback. “My back’s a jug handle, you could pick me up and pour me.” What saves us is our wit. If you can keep your wits about you when you’re old, perhaps it’s better. But then, as Diana Athill said to me once, perhaps it is worse, “because one is aware of what is happening”.
The Empathetic Store by Jackie Kay is published on 14 August by Mariscat Press, priced £6.
The article first appeared here in The Guardian 

Monday, 6 July 2015

When we turn caregivers to parents: Balancing love and duty, ambition and resentment.

Credits: Pritha Chatterjee, Alifiya Khan, Premankur Biswas, Tabassum Barnagarwala and Debesh Banerjee. 

It was a cold, snowed-in Philadelphia night last December when Sambuddha Chaudhuri, 31, received the phone call. It was his father at the other end, his voice sounding “suddenly very old, very tired”. “My mother, a cancer survivor, had gone for a routine check-up and the doctor found some lumps near her breast. My father had called to inform me that there was a possibility of a relapse,” says Chaudhuri. A decade ago, when he was a medical student at Midnapore Medical College near Kolkata, his mother had been detected with ovarian cancer. “It was in an advanced stage, but she was pronounced cancer-free within a year,” says Chaudhuri. His mother, Kanika, resumed her job as a professor of education in a south Kolkata girls’ college and Chaudhuri left the country after his MBBS to pursue a PhD on public health from the University of Pennsylvania, US. “When my father called, I couldn’t sleep all night. They insisted that I stay back, but I just couldn’t,” he says. By next evening, he had bought tickets to Kolkata and had that crucial talk with his PhD guide. “Not shifting was never an option for me. I needed to be there,” says Chaudhuri.

Age can be a cruel mistress, but it’s not hard on the old alone. As Shoojit Sircar’s recent blockbuster Piku shows, filial responsibility can be tough on the next generation as they grapple with their responsibilities, trying to strike a balance between love and duty, between their professional aspirations and personal lives. As their roles reverse, life changes in irrevocable ways for the caregivers and their parents.

Oncologist Indranil Chatterjee took a break in his studies when his mother was diagnosed with acute depression. She died in 2005. 

When New Delhi-based chartered accountant Raman, 42, quit his job with an accounting firm in 2011, he thought it would be a brief sabbatical. After his father’s death, his mother, then 65, had been living alone in their Raipur home. She fractured her hip after a fall and Raman and his six siblings flew in from different parts of the world to be with her. The accident had been severe. Their mother hadn’t been able to get up or get to the phone in the living room. She had managed to drag herself till the bathroom, where the domestic help found her 16 hours later, sobbing because she had wet herself and was in great pain. “We hung around till she recovered, it took about two months. After that, everyone had to leave. My mother, who had always been fiercely independent and would refuse to leave the house my father had built, asked me if she could come and stay with us in Delhi for a few days,” says Raman.

But after the hip fracture, she broke her ankle, then her thigh bone from minor falls and what was supposed to be a brief visit became a permanent shift.
Doctors diagnosed her with osteoporosis: her bones had become brittle and made her prone to accidents. She needed round-the-clock supervision. Raman decided to take a break to tend to his mother, only her condition never improved and she became bedridden. He never went back to his office.

Age can be a cruel mistress, but it’s not hard on the old alone.

Giving up his cushy job also meant re-orienting his life. His three children were studying in expensive schools; his wife had given up her career in advertising after their second child. Now she had to return to work. “Those were hard times. My mother refused to take my wife’s help, she always found faults with everything she did. So I had to change her diapers and help her bathe. I took to sleeping on the floor in her room because she could call at any time,” he says.

Even though their lives have finally fallen into a rhythm — Raman has his own practice now — it was often difficult because his mother continued to shun his wife. There were tears and fights, but now, both husband and wife have become reconciled to the elderly woman’s hostility. They even find it amusing. “She tells me that I have always been the laziest of her daughters-in-law, but I have to dress her, brush her hair and cook her food. Even though she cribs through all of it, she won’t have a help looking after her,” says Raman’s wife with a laugh.

India has a growing population of the elderly — 10 crore people are above 60, according to the 2011 Census report — but our facilities for geriatric care have not kept up. Earlier, large households and family networks would bear the responsibility of taking care of the old. Now an entire generation of urban Indians, who had left towns and cities to strike out on their own, who had become accustomed to living atomised lives in big cities, are having to switch paths, give up jobs or scale down their ambitions, to take care of their parents — and confront questions of mortality.

Indore-based Soumya Roy, 54, quit State Bank of Indore’s industrial finance branch in Indore in 2004, rejecting an offer to move to Delhi to join a new commercial branch for high-profile corporate clients. His father was 82, a diabetic with heart ailments and had recently undergone a hip replacement surgery. His mother was 75 then. He was already the chief manager at his workplace, with a promising career ahead of him. But he chose to give it up to help his elder sister, Snigdha, now 62, look after their parents. He took up various financial management teaching assignments before settling down as a media and communications teacher. “My sister was a school teacher and since her timings were fixed, I had to get flexible working hours. Becoming a visiting faculty in colleges made me available at all times,” says Roy. The siblings never married and Roy now has moments of doubt when he wonders if he did the right thing by giving up his career. I wanted to keep them alive for as long as possible. I am not sure my father would have lived so long if I had prioritised my career. But they never offered to move to Delhi. They had always lived in Indore,” he says. His father passed away at the age of 91, but his mother, now mostly bed-ridden after two pelvic fractures, needs constant supervision.

Unlike others her age, 25-year-old Kanika Sharma does not go for a movie or a coffee with friends once her work is over. She rushes back to her home in Subhash Nagar, Delhi, to cook an evening meal for her mother, who undergoes dialysis thrice a week and requires constant care. Since 2003, her mother, 49-year-old Neelam Sharma, a former social sciences teacher at Ramjas School, Anand Parbat, has been suffering from severe kidney infection, which causes bouts of breathlessness, fatigue, and vomiting. In 2010, she had to be put on a dialysis regime, forcing her to quit her job.

Kanika Sharma with her ailing mother Sheela Tilak, 60, an ENT surgeon in Pune, has been looking after her 90-year-old mother, Kamal, for more than a decade now, choosing to remain unmarried so she could do justice to her career and her parent. She remembers her initial resentment at having two live-in helps look after her mother. “I’m not used to people watching me, judging my every move. But I reminded myself, it’s for her and slowly, it became bearable,” she says. The bigger changes, though, were having to give up on overseas conferences and surgeries. “Earlier, at least once a year, I would travel abroad, but now I can’t leave my mother behind,” she says.

Though the idea of being responsible for the care of one’s parents is seemingly ingrained into Indians, inviting them back into one’s life is a fraught exercise. Eight months ago, Pune-based Devansh Mehta, 46, decided to move his wife and children to a rented apartment after his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and dementia, went missing once again.

It was a frantic time for the family, made worse by police insinuations of neglect and torture at home. “My wife was already under a lot of pressure. She works, looks after our children and takes care of our father. She couldn’t handle it anymore. That’s when I decided to get a full-time caretaker for my parents and move my family out,” says Mehta.
For both the ailing and their caregivers, the toughest part is accepting the transformations of time, of watching parents come close to losing control of their lives. “My mother has always been an independent woman. Seeing her like this breaks my heart but I need to be strong. Even at home we never treat her like a patient. But I have to become her mother at times when she gets stubborn about things,” says Sharma, a PR professional, who has hardly taken a holiday in the past five years.

It was the silences that got to Indranil Chatterjee. When his mother was diagnosed with severe depression in 2001, Chatterjee had completed his MBBS from Guwahati and was supposed to take his crucial postgraduation entrance exam. He returned to his hometown in Dibrugarh, Assam, to be with her. “For months together she would just sit at a place and not talk. It was painful because she was a really jovial person,” says Chatterjee, who is now an oncologist with the Thakurpukur Cancer Hospital, Kolkata.

Many a time, Chatterjee would feel his mother slip away. “I felt like I had lost my mother. She was a different person. That almost broke my spirit,” says Chatterjee. Over two years, Namita made slow progress. “There were days when I would serve food to her and she would stare at it without eating and then in the evening she would have moments of lucidity when she was the same person again, talking to me, enquiring about my studies,” remembers Chatterjee. Eventually, his mother got much better, enough to live by herself in 2003. “But I never got my mother back. This person was a pale shadow of her,” says. In 2005, she succumbed to a heart attack. “I tell myself she had lost the will to live,” he says.

Old age is a stripping away of health and ability, but most of all, a sense of autonomy. Many conflicts among caregivers and the ailing involve the latter’s reluctance to cede control, and slip, without so much as a fight, into a second childhood. Dr Om Prakash, an expert in geriatric psychiatry at Delhi government’s Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, says, “If your partner’s parent comes to stay with you, you start feeling like you have lost your autonomy. To cope, you start expecting the elderly to give up their decision-making abilities and live on your terms.” The elderly do not have it easy at all. “Almost 40-50 per cent have medical ailments. With age, ability to cope or adjust decreases, and this sudden loss of freedom leads to more stress,” says Dr Prakash. With old-age homes being places where they feel unwanted, and a complete absence of geriatric care, this is a crisis that is only going to grow.

For the Mehtas in Pune, the crisis was solved by the compromise of separate homes. The new routine has given their life some semblance of sanity, Mehta says. “After the children leave for school, my wife checks on my parents and leaves for work. In the evenings, I go there directly after work and have dinner with them. We spend all our weekends together. In the meantime, I have installed additional child locks in the entire house and kept watchmen to ensure that my father doesn’t go out alone. It’s hugely expensive but this way, I can look after my parents and my wife and children,” he says.
It’s 8 PM, a rare cool June evening in Gurgaon. At 41-year-old Ashima’s apartment in a Gurgaon highrise though, everyone is screaming. Earlier in the day, her 84-year-old father, a retired diplomat, had sneaked out for an afternoon walk and got caught in the showers. He returned home three hours later, by when the family was frantic. “He refuses to carry a mobile phone. He leaves the house when he pleases. We were going crazy, knocking on neighbours’ doors, calling the guards, just wondering if we should go to the police, when he walks in dripping, laden with four bags of vegetables,” says Ashima, still fuming. Her father has changed and is enjoying his favourite honey tea as she calls her brother to complain.

At a strapping 5 feet 11 inches, with a barely discernible paunch under his kurta, Ashima’s father is fit for his age. He is clearly someone who is refusing to go gently into the good night. As his daughter rages, he smiles, waiting for the storm to blow over. “Once you are over 80, everyone expects you to fall ill, have some surgeries and get bed-ridden. I come from a zamindar bari in Kolkata,we used to walk 15 km a day, go for shikaar. In my service days, I always exercised. Now they expect me to stay locked in. It’s useless fighting with them over it, so I just go out whenever everyone is out or sleeping,” he says.
An IT professional with a start-up she has set up with her husband in Noida, Ashima has always been the one to look after her parents, since her brother, eight years her junior, has a transferable job. “My husband lost his parents early, he likes having my parents around. My son is deeply attached to them, so I don’t want them to live anywhere else. But at least thrice a week, I have to rush back home, because of some emergency or the other that involves my father,” says Ashima. Her father, seated next to her, smiles. “I don’t want to move out either. We helped raise her son while she built her career. Why should we move out now?” he says.

He has begun writing poetry lately, he confides, to make sure he is not growing senile as Ashima keeps telling him. “But every time, I want to read out my poems, Ashima walks off. I know she doesn’t appreciate my writing. But after I die, you wait and see, she will be the one to get my poems published,” he says with a guffaw. (The family did not want to be identified.)

HelpAge India came across this beautiful piece of writing through Harini Calamur's tweet.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Open Letter to a 60 year old ME.

Dear 60 year old me,

Your body may have changed but your heart hasn’t. Do what you love.

Know that you have raised some beautiful children in this world, to the best of your capacity. 

Laugh. Dance. Keep wearing sunscreen. Create. Give.

Yours Truly,
Young at Heart Granny.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

"Will you perform his last rites, because his son is busy in office?"


Just two days back our Mobile Medicare Team (MMU) came across a 78 year old man whose only dream in life was to donate his body when he breathes his last, only because his very own son, working in an MNC had made clear to him that he had no time for his burial rituals in case his father died in next few days as he would be busy with an office project.

Today there are 100 million elderly in India and this figure is likely to rise. But seeing the rampant cases of elderly abuse it is made very clear that many young in India don’t want them. According to the elder abuse report, there has been a marked increase in percentage of elders who reported experiencing abuse from 23% in 2013 to 50% in 2014. Whether it is financial abuse, physical abuse or neglect, seniors are getting injured all too often.

According to the National Centre on Elder Abuse, the number of older adults who are mistreated each year is close to 5 million and the figure is only rising. What else has become too common is the saddening fact that in most of cases of elder abuse, abuser is no one else but one of their own. It is very often that we hear the news of elderly being abused by their own sons and daughters-in-law. A few years back a heart breaking case came to light infront of HelpAge communications team, wherein an old couple stood waiting at the gates of one of the busiest airports, only because their son and daughter-in-law, who had promised to return with the boarding passes to fly to London, never returned.

There are various youth oriented schemes and projects, which at some level is correct, but in this we tend to neglect the elderly and their problems. In HelpAge India’s 2013 survey, 1 out of every 8 elderly interviewed, reported that they feel they are not needed and nobody cares they exist!

Why do people above the age of 80 and 90 have to work? The reason is same-no supporter or caregiver, nor much financial savings, because most, if not all, are indeed spent on raising children. Many of these children, never turn back to lend a helping hand to very same who rocked their cradles when they were too little to even use a spoon. Another fact tells us that 55 million elderly sleep on empty stomachs daily.

Elderly abuse is not only restricted to homes, but is a social problem. The lack of public facilities for the senior citizens is a disappointing factor for a developing country like India. The very basic necessities of food, water and shelter are also denied to them; because people think that it is not “strategic” to invest for them as they are in their twilight years.

We proudly speak of our education, values and our judicial system, but where does it all vanish when it comes to protecting our elders? Elder abuse happens daily and in every corner of the country in one form or the other. We see it but keep our eyes and ears shut. While abuse has gone up, unfortunately still 41% of those abused, did not report the matter to anyone for the sake of “maintaining confidentiality of family matter”. 46% reported facing abuse for 3-5 years, while 25% reported 1-2 years. Sadly, 4% of the elderly reported to be facing abuse for more than 15 years. In 2014, the number of people who are admitting to suffer abuse for 3-5 years jumped to 46% as against 28% the previous years. Another observation that came to light, was about the Reasons for Not Reporting abuse, is that in Metro cities there is marked ‘lack of confidence in the any person or agency to deal with the problem’ and also there seems to be a general feeling of “did not know how to deal with the abuse”. However “Fear of retaliation” appears in 3 out of 6 Tier II cities, unlike the Tier I cities. All elders surveyed seemed most aware of the police helpline at 67%. In the case of victims the awareness level continues to be high at 64% but only 12% approached the police. Nationally, the effective mechanisms perceived by all elderly to deal with Elder Abuse include “increasing economic independence of the abused (30%)”, “sensitizing children and strengthening inter-generational bonding (21%)” and “developing Self-Help-Groups of Older Persons to provide assistance and intervention (14%).”

Our elders need our love and little bit of our time. Is it too tough an ask that we fail to acknowledge everytime? Watch Bhibu Sharma’s story to know that abuse is not only physical, sometimes, it's pricks just as much, when it comprises neglect and disrespect. 

 Click the above image to watch the video

Join HelpAge India on June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2015 to #StopElderAbuseToday. Share your blogs on or simply tweet to us with your selfie or tag us on Facebook and Instagram just like several youngsters across the country are doing to break the silence with their simple gestures that'll raise voice against neglect and abuse of the elderly. Will you join us? 

To submit a blog at click here: IndiBlogger

To tweet, follow us here: @HelpAgeIndia_
Facebook Page: HelpAge India 
Instagram: HelpAge India 

Official Hashtags: #StopElderAbuseToday   #WEAAD2015

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

"Everybody needs a hug. It changes your metabolism." ~ Leo Buscaglia

Click on the above image to play the video

Sometimes a silent hug is the only thing to say.  A hug is a handshake from the heart. And sometimes,  a hug is like a boomerang - you get it back right away!  

Every day, let's reach out and hug one elderly. A hug for most older people is like a bandage to their hurting wounds of loneliness and neglect by their very own, sometimes.  

Join the HelpAge India's HUG (Help Unite Generations' campaign). Share your story of the impact you are making on an elder’s life and how it is helping them to grow as an individual and the change it’s bringing in you. Whenever you see an elder person sitting all alone, look again! He or she may be in your family or neighborhood or someone you’ve seen many times and is always alone. This person has one need that you can fulfill. With just one word, one smile, one HUG! Just give them a little bit of your time. These are the gestures that an elder seeks but often does not receive. The HUG Campaign encourages you to simply give a call, listen to experiences, ask how the day was and share your stories with your elder friend. 

Action All Ages

We are with @TheDesmondTutu on #SDGs. Join the conversation : Hashtag #ActionAllAges and amplify the voice!

We're part of the action/2015 movement by HelpAge International to ensure that the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are inclusive of people of all ages.

Listen to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his take on why the SDGs should be for people of all ages, including older people!

Find out more about the campaign: