Author: Kritika Walia, National Health Authority, Government of India Understanding the Unique Health IDs: The landscape of healthcare is evolving towards a…
Authors: Deepali Kausshik, Public Health Professional; Kumar Gaurav, Public Health Professional
India, with its rich cultural heritage and diverse population, is witnessing a significant demographic transition. As per the ‘India Ageing Report 2023’, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), The elderly population in the country is growing rapidly, and by 2050, it is estimated that India will have over 347[i] million senior citizens. This unprecedented rise in the old-age population will have substantial implications for health, economy, and society in India. This demographic change brings forth substantial implications for India’s health, economy, and society. In this article, we explore the pressing need for geriatric care in India, supported by real-life examples.
The Aging Population Challenge
- Increasing Life Expectancy[ii]: One of the primary reasons geriatric care demands more focus in India is the increase in life expectancy. With advancements in healthcare and living conditions, people are living longer. However, this also increases vulnerability to age-related health issues.
- Burden of Chronic Diseases[i]: Elderly individuals are prone to chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and arthritis. These conditions often require long-term care and management, making specialized geriatric care essential. The prevalence of chronic morbid conditions was lower among older men than women. Over 30 percent of the elderly women and 28 percent of the men suffered from one chronic morbid condition and nearly one-fourth (across both sexes) suffered from more than two morbid conditions.
3. Mental Health[i]: The incidence of depression was seen to be rising with increasing age, particularly among elderly women than men.
Real-Life Example: Mrs. Verma’s Struggle
Mrs. Verma’s Struggles Meet Mrs. Verma, an 80-year-old widow in a small Indian town, grappling with arthritis. Her children, residing in different cities, can only visit sporadically due to their busy lives. Her story mirrors the challenges many elderly individuals face in India due to limited geriatric care facilities, family support, and healthcare accessibility.
The Need for Specialized Geriatric Care
- Comprehensive Healthcare: Geriatric care encompasses a wide range of medical services tailored to the unique needs of older adults. This includes regular check-ups, management of chronic conditions, and preventive care. Specialized geriatricians can provide a holistic approach to healthcare, focusing on both physical and mental well-being.
- Cognitive Health: Age-related cognitive decline, including conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia, is a growing concern in India. Specialized care facilities equipped to handle these conditions can significantly improve the quality of life for affected individuals and their families.
- Social and Emotional Support: Addressing loneliness and depression among the elderly, especially those living alone or in care facilities, is essential through activities, counselling, and support groups.
Policy Initiatives and Community Involvement
To address the need for enhanced geriatric care in India, several policy initiatives and community-based programs are essential:
- National Health Policy[i]: India’s National Health Policy emphasizes healthy aging, preventive healthcare, and accessible healthcare services for seniors. The policy recognizes the growing need for palliative and rehabilitative care for all geriatric illnesses and advocates the continuity of care across all levels.
- National Program for Health Care of the Elderly (NPHCE)[ii]: NPHCE is a dedicated program aimed at improving the healthcare infrastructure and services for the elderly in India. It focuses on promoting community-based primary healthcare for older adults, early detection and management of age-related health issues, and geriatric training for healthcare professionals.
- Increased Healthcare Investment[iii]: The government should allocate more resources to establish geriatric care centres, train healthcare professionals in geriatrics, and subsidize medical costs for senior citizens.
- Public Awareness Campaigns[iv]: Raising awareness about the importance of geriatric care and providing information on available services can encourage families to seek help for their elderly members. The government runs awareness campaigns and educational programs to sensitize the public, healthcare providers, and families about the challenges faced by older adults and how to provide them with better care.
- Community Outreach: Engaging community organizations and volunteers to provide support, companionship, and healthcare services to the elderly can alleviate some of the challenges faced by seniors.
- Primary Healthcare for the Elderly[v]: Government health policies prioritize the establishment of geriatric clinics and healthcare centers, especially in rural and underserved areas, to provide specialized care to older adults. These centers offer services such as regular health check-ups, chronic disease management, and geriatric counseling.
- Preventive Healthcare: The government promotes preventive healthcare among older adults, including vaccination programs (e.g., flu and pneumonia vaccines), regular health screenings, and health education to raise awareness about age-related diseases and healthy living.
- Access to Medications: Policies aim to ensure that older adults have access to affordable medications, especially those used to manage chronic conditions common among seniors, such as diabetes, hypertension, and arthritis.
- Mental Health Services[vi]: Recognizing the importance of mental health in older adults, government policies also address mental health issues and provide access to counseling and support services for conditions like depression, anxiety, and dementia.
- Elderly-Friendly Hospitals: Initiatives are in place to make hospitals and healthcare facilities more elderly-friendly by addressing their unique needs, such as mobility assistance, accessible infrastructure, and trained staff to handle geriatric patients.
- Long-term Care Facilities: While the availability of long-term care facilities, such as assisted living or nursing homes, is limited compared to the growing need, some government policies aim to regulate and standardize such facilities to ensure the safety and well-being of residents.
- Social Security Schemes: Apart from healthcare, older adults may benefit from social security schemes like old-age pensions and other financial support systems
India’s rapidly aging population necessitates urgent action. Mrs. Verma’s story underscores the need for improved geriatric care facilities in the country. Specialized healthcare, cognitive support, and social engagement are essential components of elderly empowerment. By investing in geriatric care, India can ensure healthier, fulfilling lives for senior citizens, benefiting society as a whole. It’s time for India to prioritize geriatric care and provide dignified lives for its elderly population.
[i] https://main.mohfw.gov.in/sites/default/files/9147562941489753121.pdf as on 6th October 2023
[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9535372/ as on 7th October 2023.
[iii] https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/editorial/start-preparing-for-an-ageing-india-2709756 as on 6th october 2023
[iv] https://main.mohfw.gov.in/sites/default/files/Detailed%20Breif%20of%20NPHCE.pdf as on 8th October 2023
[vi] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/02537176211032342?icid=int.sj-full-text.similar-articles.8#:~:text=Care%20for%20the%20elderly%20with,and%20informal%20sources%E2%80%94family%20as as on 8th October 2023
[i] India Ageing Report 2023’by UNPFA and IIPS
[i] India Ageing Report 2023’by UNPFA and IIPS
[ii] Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, Sample Registration System-based ‘Abridged Life Tables 2015-19’, (Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi, 2022). India Ageing Report 2023’by UNPFA and IIPS