Shortchanged in the autumn of life

Nearly 10 percent of the state’s population is elderly and about half this number live either alone or with a spouse. Providing professional nursing care at home is a huge challenge for progeny, with agencies charging prohibitive rates for below par service. Nurses are poorly-trained, irregular and often have trouble fitting in with their employer’s family. There's much to be done in terms of policy, from universal health insurance, revised pension plans, helplines and the establishment of a national commission for senior citizens.

IT City Bengaluru has many facilities to offer its people, and its hospitals are much sought after even among those seeking medical help from abroad. But sadly, its elderly continue to remain neglected.    

Going by the India Ageing Report 2017  9. 2 per cent  of the state’s population is elderly and of them 5.3 per cent are either living alone or only with their spouses. Those who do live with their families are not any better off as proper nursing care for the old remains elusive in Bengaluru with many caregivers throwing up their hands in frustration at  the level of expertise on offer.  

"The nurses that come to us  don't even know about diapers let alone knowing how to use one. Despite this lack of training, they charge Rs 1600 a day," complains Ms Anjana Mukherjee, 60,  who  had a hard time finding a reasonably priced home nurse for her mother-in-law. Giving up, she and her husband have now managed to find a caretaker through word of mouth to attend to her.

Ms Shrabonti Bagchi, an independent writer from the city, says she got nursing help for her mother a few years ago from one of the famous home  healthcare service providers in the city, but not only were the nurses not well trained but also not very competent.  “They were mostly young girls from North East, who had received some training, but were not very good at their job.  They had adjustment problems too although we tried to be as kind and understanding as possible. The whole experience was not easy," she recalls.

Sixty-three-year-old retired Air Force officer, Ram Singh has been struggling for almost a year to get a proper nurse to take care of his wife, who is suffering from  breast cancer  and is now finding it hard to be mobile. “ They charge us Rs 25,000 a month and send us girls from remote villages with no adequate training and of course with a  language barrier. On Monday I sent the nurse back. It is difficult, " he adds frustratedly.

Mr DK Mukherjee, who is 67, believes there should be some form of grading system and capping of nursing charges. “All we as senior citizens get from the government is a 0.5 per cent extra on fixed deposits but even the interest rates are falling. So how does one save and spend on healthcare?" he asks pertinently. 

Revise hikes for pension, set up care centres in dists
“It is extremely important to train the caregivers, be it a paid nurse or the family and sensitise them to handling senior citizens,” emphasises Dr Anoop Amarnath, chairman Geriatric Medicine, Manipal Hospitals,  whose department sends about 1000 nurses on home visits a month in Bengaluru.

“We need to have certain protocol and accountability in this area. Sadly, we are not there yet in terms of standardisation of care given,”  Dr Anoop regrets referring to the caregivers scenario for the elderly in general in the city.

He believes it is important to implement the National Programme for Health Care of the Elderly (NPHCE), which takes care of various issues faced by senior citizens of the country. “If it is implemented in its entirety then many issues of elderly care can be addressed on a larger level,” he maintains.

Those involved in the care of the elderly say the state government must ensure that all its hospitals have separate queues and beds for senior citizens and its district hospitals provide special facilities for them. “Also, every district must have at least one old age home for the poor and needy, which can accommodate at least 150,” they stress.

Other  demands for the elderly include a universal and non-contributory old age pension system under which they are given not less than 50 per cent of  the minimum wage or Rs 2000 a month (whichever is higher) as pension.
Experts in the field feel the monthly pension for the old should be revised every two to three years and changed every six months based on inflation as is done for salaries of government servants.

They also maintain that any individual who is 55- years- old or older should be eligible for the old age pension and for women, the eligibility age should be 50.


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