‘Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same colour as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated’
Ernest Hemingway in The Old Man and the Sea.
It is a known fact that as people age their health also deteriorates. Health problems are a major concern for the elderly and they are prone to diseases and disabilities more than the younger age groups which can make them physically and economically dependent. The increasing number of elderly in the country means that they are going to make contributions to the economy. If this has to happen then they have to be healthy physically and mentally. Active and healthy ageing is possible only if the health aspects of the old people are tackled (Lakshmi 2007).
President Pranab Mukherjee on International Day of Older Persons, called for measures to enable the elderly to lead a life of “dignity.” Speaking at a function organised by HelpAge India Mr. Mukherjee expressed concern over the growing neglect and abuse of seniors in the country. “We must do everything possible to ensure that our elders can lead a life of dignity, enjoy the best of medical attention, economic security as well as emotional stability.”
In a remarkable coincidence International Day of Older Persons and the day India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (C.R.P.D.) falls on the same date- 1st October. The similarity ends here as the population of elderly is growing and efforts on implementing the Convention are static if not on a downhill.
The Preamble to the CRPD acknowledges that disability is “an evolving concept”, but also stresses that “disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”. A person’s environment has a huge impact on the experience and extent of disability.
Inaccessible environments create disability by creating barriers to participation and inclusion. As the World Health Organization Commission on Social Determinants of Health has argued, inequality is a major cause of poor health, and hence of disability. It has been 6 years since India ratified the Convention and though it is a visionary and paradigm changing instrument, its grass root implementation is still a distant vision.
Disabled elderly make up half the disabled population in India. According to NSSO 52nd round the proportion of disabled people was 55.8 per cent. Those who are disabled in seeing and hearing, form more than the total disabled population. The proportion of elderly disabled in hearing or with movement impairment in urban areas is more than that in the total elderly population. Female elderly suffer from disabilities over five times that of elderly men.
One out of seven older people in the world has been projected to be from India in the year 2001[Sharma and Agarwal,1996]. The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) probed five types of disabilities of the elderly. These were visual impairment, hearing problem, difficulty in walking (locomotor problem), problems in speech and senility. Twenty-five per cent of the elderly in India suffered from visual impairment, followed by hearing difficulties (14 per cent) and locomotor disability and senility (each 11 per cent). The prevalence rates of all the five disabilities were higher in rural than in urban areas. Except for visual impairment, women were ahead in all the disabilities compared to males.
Estimates from International Longevity Centre (I.L.C.) show that population of elderly people in India is set to increase by over 55% by 2050 and those above 80 will go up by 326% in the same year. Dr Sharadchandra Gokhale, President of I.L.C., said: “Since the ageing population is on rise and is estimated to increase by many folds, there is a need to understand and address the profound consequences of the ageing population. The Disabilities Act, which is in existence but is hardly implemented, has no reference to the elderly associated disabilities. For the same, the law needs to be amended, the policy and programmes on disabilities need to include age related disabilities in a major way,” (DNIS 2011)
The National Policy is not yet streamlined with CRPD and most of the states doesnot have a State policy for persons with disabilities. I exposed it earlier that the capital of India is still clueless about a state disability policy. Despite being a grim scenario, more policies should be designed for the welfare of the elderly so that they can contribute efficiently to the economic development of the country. The theme of International Day of Older Persons this year is “Longevity: Shaping the future.” This can only be achieved by implementing CRPD and one of the pillars of achieving this can be through accessibility. An accessible society can help the elderly in shaping his future.
Lakshmi Priya (2007). Disabled elderly in India. eSocial Sciences, Mumbai. eSS Conference Paper ‘Towards Sustainable Global Health’. June 2007
Sharma and Aggarwal (1996): Aging, Disability, and Disabled Older People in India.
National Sample Survey Organisation (1998): Aged in India, A Socio-Economic Profile, NSS 52nd Round, July1995-June 1996.
DNIS Volume 8 Issue 6 - March 15, 2011 ‘Disability Act should include elderly’