By IJ Saldanha Shet
Mangalore: Today the dawn of October seems to recall the aged and aging. Aging is a perfectly natural and inevitable life process in humans. People today have a greater life expectancy and this trend is seen world wide, experts tell us. The increasing number of the elderly above the age of 60 is phenomenal in present times and would touch high percentages in the near future. In India, a larger proportion would be in rural areas. Hence, there is an urgent need to focus on all angles in this scenario. Healthy aging with a higher degree of activeness requires a paradigm shift through a whole lot of regulation and care infrastructure from all facets official and social which are not yet in sight. This would involve governments at several levels, civil society, senior citizens forums, academic and research institutions, private sector, youth and community. The formation of the national council for senior citizens recently, which would deal with the welfare of the country’s elderly population is far from functional. “The Council would advise the Central and State Governments on issues related to welfare of senior citizens and enhancement of their quality of life,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office had said some time ago.This is now seen as a mere myth. There needs to be serious enforcement to bring about even a degree of relief. Will this have some level of reality in this atmosphere of uncertainty and absence of any honesty? It is indeed a pertinent question being asked by the concerned. Here, take a brief look at what a group from the Konkani Saraswat Community set-up has recently in Mangalore. It points to a shift in the paradigm.
The rapid increase in the number of the aging population brings in it’s trail the urgent need to create a better handling system, environment and quality facilities to meet the vital demands of these aging people. Since, size of families are shrinking, it is found more difficult to care for the aged who can’t fend for themselves enough and need well designed support systems and financial means as well. Alongside this very critical scenario, cases of indifference, callousness, cruelty to the elderly and even murders for gain too are escalating alarmingly. Children often are not in a position to provide the care that their aged parents may be in need of even if they want to due to various compulsions. Though geriatrics is an important medical speciality in many countries in India it does not yet have a place. Sometimes the situation becomes very serious these ’no more wanted’ humans are ready to be abandoned, this in a more care concerned India. Old age can be translated into a God given opportunity, it is for the wellness sector and society to give adequate weightage to the experience and accumulated knowledge of these old people and channel them into activity and contribution that can bring positive results to the young in society and even the Government’s efforts.
Mangalore and its surroundings in the last few years has seen a slew of high end ’Homes’ that provide ’Care’ to the elderly, usually above 60 years of age. This is positively to the fact that the people, be it from the family side or the civil society together with the religious atmosphere is favourable to a better degree. But, if one takes a closer educated look, it may surface that though started with a good aim in mind by people of high thinking, the practical operating personnel has found this to be a lucrative money spinning tool and changed and shifted the paradigm. In the absence of deeper and serious monitoring by local empowered bodies and since some quarters willingly shell out money and material to rid themselves of the ’burden’ a false facade has developed which has warped the true picture. Not only is there no empowered authority to verify the various parameters and charges for levels of care; even those who have placed their elders in institutions almost never ask valid questions of those responsible which gives full freedom to those running these care institutions for the helpless aged who are far from the position of complaining even to their own kith and kin - the aged are total subalterns here. Consider the scenario when health emergency arises, the aged patient loses all faculties and is admitted in the casualty of a hospital for assessment of his illness and treatment. The authorities or a casual representative present almost always is unable and not equipped to provide any past history of the aged patient, shockingly no past history record or proper documents are available from the institution side. Also old age homes due to various difficulties in availability of reasonably trained and efficient, experienced caregivers do not have regular, suitable and sufficient personnel for good care. The staff turnover is indeed high. Care of the aged in the past was basically a charity service by dedicated avowed religious women, but the present scenario has drastically changed, young women (and men) do not opt for such services any more. All these practical concerns need to be addressed and the governmental power system and enforcement of a high caliber is a pressing need.
A HUMANE SARASWAT CONCEPT - Vasati Nilaya:
Gokarn Partagali Jeevotham Math opened “Poornapragnya Vasati Nilaya” for senior citizens from Saraswat and Goud Saraswat communities. The three storey state of the art building is situated in a prime convenient area off Bhavanti Street behind the Gokarn matt (Car Street locality) in Mangalore city. This senior citizens’ home was inaugurated on May 1, 2012, by Vidyadhiraja Theertha Swamiji of the math, which completes 352 years of setting up of its Temple in Mangalore.
Poornapragnya Vasati Nilaya, is an attractive building with 60 rooms to accommodate 100 people. “They are for aged Saraswats who want to spend time in the city actively, rather than with their children, who have settled in metropolitan cities overseas” the swamiji said. There were many from the communities who made names in various professions in the country and abroad, the swamiji added. The swamiji said “Vasati Nilaya” would go a long way in serving the aged. The math has spent Rs. 5 crore on this cause, apart from making available prime land estimated to be valued at over Four crore rupees. “Devotees have collectively worked hand in hand for the general welfare in raising the building and involved themselves in the math’s development initiatives as well” he said. Kumble Narasimha Prabhu, secretary of Gokarna Math, said “Vasati Nilaya” was different from an old age home. The occupants would be given food, medical care, security, and other generous amenities on nominal payment. The chief aim is to support the aged above 60 years of age to remain active and healthy in spirit,mind and body!“
A single room would expect a returnable deposit of Rs. 6 lakh, and a double room Rs. 10 lakh. The rooms single - 300.sq ft and double - 400. sq ft have furnishings, all basics needed attached bath plus Kitchenette. These deposits may not earn any interest but the rare advantage is it would be returned at the end of the stay of the individual or to his nominee/s, this is purely due to the magnanimity of Vidyadhiraja Theertha Swamiji of the math. Almost all other such institutions which charge a lump sum admission fee stipulate that no refund will be given after a period of 3 to 5 years stay. Matter of food is entirely the choice of the occupants; who may choose to cook or get catering from outside to supply, or she/he may eat out. The fixed maintenance charges for each type of room apart from Gas & Electricity will be approximately Rs.1500, which includes Manager Salary, Generator , Diesel , Watchman , Lift & Common maintenance. A local member of the resident’s family or community has to stand surety or local guardian. The affairs of the "Vasathi Nilaya" are managed on democratic lines by the Managing Committee, now headed by Sri Prabhakar Kamath a well known local community leader and entrepreneur. The views of the bonafide residents are always to be given respect and place as per the regulations. As far as medical aid is concerned, it is to the account and choice of the individual and the local guardian. In any emergency, the management of the “Vasati Nilaya” will render immediate assistance and/or make due arrangements as per instructions of the resident until the arrival of the local guardian who has to take charge of all arrangements and decisions on behalf of the individual. The Managing Committee has a moral duty to give all consideration to reasonable requests within the rules of the institution in a transparent manner.
RELEVANCE NOW & IN THE FUTURE:
But old age has its own perks which you can enjoy if you know how. One is to let everything go and not hold on and cling as if your very life and happiness depended on it. If you are old and are reading this, thank God for everything in your past life, even for what may appear as negative things. God made all to be happy here on earth and forever happy in the life to come! Think of old age as a God-given opportunity to do all the good possible. Obviously one cannot do everything but some things can and should. Even if you are vulnerable and weak let your mind be strong. Don’t give a chance for those who are serving you to take the upper hand; be kind and good to them like your own family but also don’t let them violate your dignity and rights.
There are two types of Old Age Homes in India. One is the "Free" type which cares for the destitute old people who have no one else to care for them and little or no means. They are given shelter, food, clothing and medical care. The second type is the "Paid" home where care is provided for a fee. Nowadays, such "Retirement" homes have become very popular in India and they are well worth considering. These homes and the people residing in them should not be looked upon as ’incarceration homes’ and it must be clear that these are constructive residences and their residents are normal citizens who are there for the comfort, facility and security that they promise.
The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies survey reveals a significant number of elderly people don’t want to live with their children’s families. “Their lifestyles are different and we don’t fit into that pizza-eating culture.” Those opting for stay in institutions majority of which are run on payment lines have little or no ’Transparency’ in their operation. Most people in the higher age brackets who are not able to fend for their basic needs and weak develop a fear and nervous tension due to the arrogant and aggressive behaviour of many of the care givers there has to be a methodology for a local peer volunteer group to monitor and prevent such abuse to the aged. Since the fear syndrome among the elderly is deeply entrenched due their helplessness, they automatically assume a martyr complex which deteriorates their mental and physical faculties rapidly. This undermines their comprehensive well being and gives rise to health problems too. It is solely the responsibility of the family, the civil society and concerned authorities locally to monitor ensure and enforce a system that is fair and lawful. Ombudsmen and authority that can audit, correct and punish the faulty must be available consistently. Grievance solution could be similar to the fast track family courts and consumer courts and so on. The age old idea that those who live in institutions are enslaved and have no freedom must change with proper exposure and education of people. Paramount are training and proper motivation for those involved in care of the aged and weak - can we make this a viable service around us to fit the demands? Awareness and sensitizing people at early ages can no doubt go a long way within a proper operational and social infrastructure.
Shrimad Vidyadhiraja Theertha Shripad Vader Swamiji
The Author of Active Old Age Concept
Shrimad Vidyadhiraja Theertha Shripada Vader Swamiji. 23rd in the pontifical lineage was given Sanyas Deeksha on 26th Feb.,1967 in Shri Ram Mandir Wadala, Mumbai , Shri Gokarn Math. Presiding Deity: Shri Ramadev and Shri Veera Vithal. The math was Established by : Param Poojya Shrimad Narayan Theertha on Chaitra Shukla Dwitiya, Shalivahana Shaka 1397 corresponding to 1475 AD. Shrimad Vidyadhiraja Theertha Shripad Vader Swamiji is the sole heart and mind behind this venture he has given generously and regulated the concept of the project on no loss no profit basis. The returnable deposit is indeed a revolution in the paid old age care concept; the income is used to build and develop the infrastructure and support for the aged residents who could have the satisfaction that they can contribute to the welfare of their heirs even after they have lived out a dignified and active life on this earth!