The Decade of 2021 to 2030 has been defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the Decade of Healthy Aging. Concept of healthy aging in this context is described as the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age. The word functional ability is very important in the contour of this definition. This means that the persons should have the capability to be and to do what they have reason to value. There are broadly five dimensions in this regard meaning thereby that the elders should have capability to:
(i) Meet their basic needs,
(ii) Learn, grow and make decisions,
(iii) Be mobile,
(iv) Build and maintain relationships,
(v) and Contribute to society
Unfortunately, the world of senior citizens is very divergent with differing physical and mental abilities. As per Baseline Report of WHO for the Decade of Healthy Aging launched in December 2020, roughly 14 per cent of people of age 60 plus are not in a position to meet even their basic needs.
It is in the above context that the Decade of Healthy Aging sought to optimize the five given functional abilities of elderly people and create suitable enabling environments for the same.
Strategies to Achieve Goals of Decade of Healthy Aging in India:
Any strategy is long-term in nature and needs to have specific goals / objective in mind. For the strategies for optimization of functional ability of elders in a country as big and divergent like India to succeed, it must be ensured that these have different propellers at macro as well as micro levels; otherwise things might not move. However, the broad objective of policy framework will continue to create and maintain an enabling environment where the seniors can do what they want to in a positive and unhindered way.
This broadly implies:
1. Adequate policy framework to safeguard interest of the elderly and facilitate healthy aging.
2. Proper legal framework to protect them from elder abuse of any kind.
3. Appropriate provision both in terms of social security as well as medical facilities allowing elderly to live a life of financial independence.
4. Enough support system in social structure where they can move freely, mix and express / share their views / stories / experiences / joys / sorrows. This includes senior citizen homes, day care / assisted centres, social clubs, and other similar entities.
5. Access to mental / physical support in case of need; this comprises services provided by geriatric counsellors, care givers, among others.
6. Availability of senior citizen friendly infrastructure at all public places like railways, airports, roads, schools, colleges, offices, etc.
7. Opportunities to contribute to society in a positive way through jobs (paid or pre bono) / social service projects / work with NGOs.
8. And most importantly an enabling environment both at public platforms or families where their voices are heard with empathy and respect.
The picture is mixed in Indian context. While the policy and laws are in place, their awareness among seniors and application on ground are limited. Justice redressal system is not expeditious. Elder abuse is rampant as well as under-reported. Social security and universal medical facility is not available to the desired level. We hardly see presence of senior citizen friendly infrastructure in India in public places. The recent initiative of Government of India to launch a job portal for senior citizens is a welcome move of providing employment opportunities to willing able elderly people; but much more needed to be done on the ground in terms of implementation. While mental health issue is a matter of serious concern, trained geriatric counsellors are scarce.
However, the NGOs / civil society are doing a commendable job in the space of helping needy senior citizens. HelpAge India is worth mentioning. Senior citizen homes, clubs and associations are doing substantive job in honing the best out of senior citizens in terms of socialization and collaborations. New generation senior citizen communities like My Retired Life Foundation are worth mentioning in this regard.
Role of Senior Citizens:
To make the process of healthy aging successful, elderly themselves have to play a big role. While external facets provide the environment, actual migration to successful healthy aging can only take place when and if elderly people have willingness as well as ability to lead the way. Therefore, for any meaningful implementation of the process of healthy aging, we need a dedicated, committed, and able group of senior citizen leaders to take the movement forward. Physically strong, mentally agile and spiritually oriented senior citizens need to take the lead. For example, nothing stops senior citizens in forming self-help groups to protect themselves from elder abuse. Similarly, like-minded people can join together and develop groups of singers / book lovers / other activities to keep themselves engaged. Able senior citizens can take up voluntary work like teaching under-privileged children, acting as counsellors for children, etc. for which there are abundant opportunities.
What it means is that elderly themselves have to be proactive rather than only depending on support from external agencies.
Age is a number. Whether we like or not, we will go on adding to the number as we grow older. What is important is that we need to add value to our life by being useful to society till the time we live. Healthy aging as a concept means this only: let us contribute whatever we can in this world till we are alive. If we believe in this principle to lead a life of use to others till our last breadth, life will be worth living an experience for all of us as elderly.