June 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, launched by the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse in 2006. Its observance motivates individuals, NGOs and governments across the world to publicly recognise the need to spread the message of the threat of abuse and neglect of older persons looming large in our society.
A UNIVERSAL concern is how to have provisions which enable older people to live safely and securely. How can we generate thinking and action that would work towards ensuring that older men and women enjoy a life free of violence, mistreatment and neglect?
Increasingly, older people are recognised as a significant group having rights, requiring special care, services and programmes for living a life of dignity and respect. But on the other hand, there is growing evidence of their exploitation, abandonment, neglect, becoming victims of crime and abuse at home, in community and in society. While narrations of exploitation, abuse and neglect by family members, including spouse, children and siblings, are now being voiced out, friends, acquaintances and strangers being perpetrators and victimising older people by cheating, robbing, fraud of money transfers and property grabbing has been publicly more visible. Abroad, older people being abused in institutions has received some attention, but in India this aspect is mostly ignored. Old-age homes, retirement communities and senior citizens residential complexes, if not properly regulated, monitored and made accountable for services provided, can be set-ups where older people may be mistreated, neglected and abused. Yet, these establishments are increasingly being viewed as alternatives to safe and secure environments for older people.
Recently, in the UK, Lord Richard Best, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People, made a case for prioritising retirement homes. His argument in favour of housing for senior citizens finds support in present-day society globally.
A rapidly increasing number of older people and shrinking and burdened care givers from the family universally point towards developing facilities, services and provisions for housing senior citizens which reduces their vulnerability to abuse and neglect. The American Association of Retired Persons, one of the largest organised group of older persons for some time, has been advocating with policymakers, programme managers and researchers to work to maintain and create housing options and communities that meet the needs of older adults and facilitate ageing in place. In New Delhi recently, experts and members of senior citizens associations deliberated on solutions to enhance safety and security of senior citizens and besides reviewing the role of police, legal and health community, social responses, such as provisions for residential facilities, be it in the form of old-age homes or retirement housing to cater to needs of older people, emerged as important action points.
The recently enacted Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, provides for old-age homes in every district, besides better medical facilities and protection of life and property of older people. Building homes for the aged has a long history in India, but it is generally related to compulsions which older people face in making a survival in their later years. However, what is new in the country is the concept of giving choices to older people to live their life independently notwithstanding managed and supervised care. There are many residential projects in the country, such as Ashiana Utsav, Dignity Lifestyle , Tapovan senior citizens foundation homes and many more which are catering to needs of older people exclusively.
Many of these are linked with real estate development and are on the outskirts of towns being impacted by the migration of the young family members, leaving older members to find for themselves suitable living arrangements. Or, these are around areas undergoing urbanisation with its consequence of increase in nuclear family set-ups and double-income families where both male and female adults are involved with work outside the home, having little time for care giving especially to older parents. These are projects which allow older people to get away from the hustle bustle of city life and live their later years in serene environments. There are many senior citizens as new research and my work with older people indicates who want to continue living in familiar environment, but however require special care facilities, age-sensitive provisions and age-friendly services. They are happy to pay for these, reinforcing their independence and autonomy. They are looking for living options in gated communities which are in close proximity to medical facilities, shopping areas, cultural centres, catering holistically to their emotional, social and physical needs.
The Golden Estate, a recently launched project for privileged living of senior citizens in Faridabad and soon in other parts of the country has geared to fulfil the need of older people for enabling environment. Significantly, the demand for such “retirement homes” for older people is greater from families with caring children who want to give their parents safer and secure well-managed residential options respecting their desire for living their life their own way.
These are not being viewed as institutions to throw away parents, as it is with the stigmatised concept of old-age homes, but are seen as complexes which provide for love, care, entertainment and participation of older people. These are institutions which realise the rights of older people. In India, multi-generational living arrangements are on the decline as national-level data reveals. With increased life expectancy at birth and at age 60, living a quality life in later years has to be made a priority. Retirement homes with their emphasis on management of care, responsibility to avoid negligence of care can be solutions for older people to move away from abusive environment at home and in the community. Institutions involved with caring for older persons do have legal liability and obligation to perform their task through the Indian Contract Act, 1872 and the law of “torts” whereby for any mistreatment and failure in caring, a civil suit can be filed against the management of the institution for the breach in contract to care, even though there might not be a written contract and damages can be claimed for the wrong done by the affected older person or his/her family member.
With legal safeguards in place, retirement homes clearly are safer and securer options for older people as residing in these complexes out of choice help older people lead full and active lives.
The wide range of services available in retirement hom-es from hospitality to medical to social and care provided with emphasis on professional competence are key points which can allow retir-ement homes, if desired, to contribute towards the well-being, health and security of residents, giving them comfort and joy of life when dep-rived due to lack of family support for whatever reason.
Dr Mala Kapur Shankardass, associate professor of sociology, Maitreyi College, Delhi University, has been working for long to improve the quality of life of older people. Email: LittleThingsMatter@gmail.com