In 2016, there were approximately 500 old age homes in India. The number currently stands at 728 homes as of 2021. Let that sink in for a moment. For a nation that prides itself for its rich cultural heritage and the age-old custom of touching one’s parents’ feet for aashirvaad, the numbers are dumbfounding. That is not all. Going by present trends, an annual increase of 25 per cent in such homes is expected.
While questions are being raised and debates held over whether this is an acceptable phenomenon and if the moral fabrics of our vibrant nation are being slowly pulled apart, the real victims of this horrible tragedy are often sidelined. Ignored by their families and the society, the elderly are forced to live the remainder of their lives in a home alien to them. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that their mental health takes a beating.
The psychological trauma that the elderly population undergo in such a situation is indescribable. The emotional and mental wounds cause lingering scars that will never fully heal. This gives rise to a number of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment and bipolar depression. With time, these mental health issues start to take a toll on their physical health as well.
Mental health in the elderly is one of the most neglected areas of healthcare with very little awareness even amongst general public, caregivers and health planners. Disability arising from an illness, loneliness, restricted personal autonomy, financial dependency or general helplessness are the key contributing factors when it comes to mental health problems in senior citizens.
Understanding the severity of the situation, VridhCare, has undertaken steps to ensure that the senior residents of old age homes were not alone. The NGO conducted several classes on mental health and meditation sessions at old age homes. Serving as an interlocutor between old age homes and welfare organizations, VridhCare successfully oversaw the implementation of positive mental health in these homes.
While old age is a significant contributor to certain mental health conditions, depression and other associated illnesses are not a normal part of the aging process. The society needs to understand that the elderly were once young and vibrant. The loss of independence – both financial and physical – that came with old age is often a hard thing to accept. For most, it may be a matter of pride; for some, helplessness.
What our elderly need is compassion and empathy. The Merriam-Webster perfectly defines golden years as ‘the advanced years in a lifetime’. Let us all strive to truly make it so.