Last week, the first part of the findings of India’s maiden longitudinal ageing study, said to be the world’s largest-ever detailed survey conducted on the elderly, was made public. The findings, though alarming, are not surprising. The survey bares the formidable challenges that confront the elderly population.
About 75 million ageing people in India suffer from chronic diseases; around 45 million have cardiovascular diseases and hypertension; about 20 million suffer from diabetes; and 24% of the elderly have difficulty in performing daily functions. By 2030, 45 per cent of the total burden of diseases, particularly non-communicable, is likely to be borne by the elderly.
In J&K context, the survey shows that cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the most prominent among people age 45 and above compared to 27% at the national level. The prevalence of CVDs increases with time from 29% in age group 45-59 to 46% in age group 60-64, and further to 59% among those in 70 and above. As regards chronic hypertension, about 30 per cent of population between 45 years and 59 years of age suffer from it and increases to 48 per cent among those aged 60 and more. The corresponding prevalence among those aged 60 and above at the national level is 32%.
It is also distressing that a sizable proportion, about 14%, are experiencing ill-treatment, as per the findings. On top of it, elderly care is still a neglected area in modern times. Modernity is associated with own problems—traditional support structures, such as those of the joint family, are disintegrating. The resultant price is high. There is the absence of concrete models of support. The privatization of care systems — old age homes, nurses and so on are still remote. They cannot be a feasible replacement for family-based care or something affordable by all sections of the ageing population. There are community-based care and health services in place in Britain under the aegis of the National Health Service and it is something worth emulating. There is also a need to treat the elderly as an economically valuable constituency. Their vast experience of life and service should be respected.
The implications of these findings are also graver given the fact that the elderly are ill-prepared to deal with these problems as only 30 per cent of those from below-poverty-line households receive pension benefits.
The government need to come up with a comprehensive preventive package with a focus on nutrition and the promotion of mental well-being.