Globally, the 60+ population is growing at a faster rate than the general population. By 2050, this demographic is projected to increase to about 22 per cent of the total population. At the same time, the number of people who are 80+ is growing even faster, and by 2050, is projected to total approximately 434 million. This growing demographic is putting a severe strain on existing health systems all around the world.
The implication for developing nations is critical – they need to adapt even more quickly to ageing population, often at much lower levels of national income, as compared to developed nations. In countries which do not have pension systems in place, or any other initiative to offer adequate income, the older population is more likely to live in poverty. There is also a strong association between the burdens of disability caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the pace of growth of the older population.
In absolute numbers, India ranks 2nd in the 60+ demographic and 3rd in the ‘oldest old’ or the 80+ demographic in the world. There are some crucial reasons for this: today, Indians are living longer and staying healthy longer, and life expectancy in India has increased by 18 years in the past five decades. In fact, the World Bank estimates that by 2050, the average life expectancy at birth worldwide will be 80 years.
Secondly, India’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has been almost halved, falling from 5.2 in 1971 to 2.5 in 2011. It’s projected to fall by another 50 per cent by 2050.
The foreseeable challenges, therefore, are that of an increased aging population; increase in the absolute number and percentage of the ‘oldest old’ among the elderly; increased number of NCDs and the subsequent toll on public health systems; low penetration of health insurance; inadequate number of old age homes, etc.
Unfortunately, while ageing members of India’s population need constant support, they have been a largely neglected demographic — by governments, organisations, individuals and even their own children. It is therefore crucial that interventions to improve the quality of life of the elderly increase exponentially.
The Tata Trusts aim to play a transformational role in the geriatric sector by focusing on critical gap areas and creating an empathetic ecosystem. The Trusts’ elder-care initiatives aim to serve the relevant needs of the elderly population in India, 71 per cent of whom live in rural areas, through a response system that synergises leadership, collaboration, innovation and technology. The goal is to improve the quality of life of elderly people through caregiving, decreasing their dependency, and generating social and economic opportunities. This last is a crucial point – according to Census 2011, over 47 per cent of the elderly in rural areas and 20.5 per cent in urban centres continue to work.
The Trusts’ elder-care initiative was initiated under the umbrella of 'Elder Spring', that is customised to fit the aging population in both urban and rural areas. The Elder Spring Urban Model focuses on remaking urban centres into age-friendly cities that optimises opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance the happy and healthy aging of the elderly. This intervention was launched in Bhubaneswar in partnership with the Government of Odisha, and focuses on multi-activity hub centres that offer health and wellness, therapeutic activities, utilities and products necessary for seniors and persons with disabilities. Clustered around is the ‘spoke’ centres that offer spiritual discussions and entertainment, yoga classes, awareness sessions, digital literacy sessions, health check-ups, etc.
Link to the Anand Programme of SSEPD, Bhubaneshwar
The rural model of this initiative focuses on addressing the basic health needs of the elderly in rural areas through the National Programme for the Health, Care of Elderly (NPHCE), a central government initiative. The Trusts work on a comprehensive programme for elder care – covering preventive, curative, promotive and rehabilitative treatments for the overall well-being of older people. There is collaboration with the district administration, the health department, and gram panchayat in Chandrapur (Maharashtra), Medak (Telangana) and Yadgir (Karnataka) to identify needs and gaps and address the same through their multi-pronged initiatives. The Trusts have enabled the setting up of village activity centres dedicated to ensuring the good health of the elderly in the area.
Apart from this, an Elder Spring Response system has been set up in Hyderabad to enable elder-care solutions on a single platform to make it easy for the elderly to call for guidance. It can be accessed through a toll-free number — 14567 — and it provides free information, counselling, emotional support, and field services that focus on elder needs and issues including elder care, abandonment, support for victims of abuse, legal and pension-related advice, etc. The advice, assistance and/or services provided through this connect center number — 14567 — are covered by a disclaimer. Click here to read it.
An Elder Spring Digital Platform is another helpful initiative that helps to create a nationwide digital platform for elders. The focus of this initiative is to provide a trusted digital platform for the elderly and their caregivers, where they can engage with their peers in online communities, find opportunities to volunteer or to earn an income in their local communities with ease. The technology-driven design enables transparent crowd sourcing for ratings and reviews. The aim is to make this a self-sustainable platform that can eventually become a social enterprise that serves the needs of the elders across the nation.
You can view the programme website on http://elderspring.org/