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NITI Aayog report calls for paradigm shift in country’s senior care system

NITI Aayog

DIMAPUR, FEBRUARY 19: A position paper entitled ‘Senior Care Reforms in India: Reimagining the Senior Care Paradigm’ recently released by NITI Aayog has called for realigning, reorganising, and re-orienting the country’s existing policy landscape to map out an effective and efficient senior care ecosystem.
“This includes various programmes and policies that address the specific needs of the ageing population, such as increasing access to affordable healthcare services, strengthening the social welfare system, and promoting economic opportunities to safeguard seniors against economic hardships; in line with the concept of ageing and senior care. Additionally, there is a need for increased public awareness and education about the issues facing older adults and the importance of including them in policy decisions”, stated the report released by NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Suman Bery on February 16.
In India, senior citizens, i.e. people aged 60 years and above, currently comprise a little over 10% of the population, translating to about 104 million.
“In India, the challenges associated with population ageing are further exacerbated by the lack of affordable healthcare services, shifting disease burden, evolving nuclear family structures, and altered consumption patterns.
“India will have 319 million older adults by 2050, accounting for 20% of the total population, putting additional strain on India’s already overburdened healthcare system. Nearly one-half (45%) of India’s disease burden is projected to be borne by older adults in 2030, when the population age groups with high levels of chronic conditions will represent a much greater share of the total population”, the report stated.
Further, it pointed out that neuro-degenerative diseases like dementia mostly affect older adults, though it is not a part of normal ageing. In India, an estimated 4 million people are living with dementia, and this number is projected to increase to 13.4 million by 2050.
“The burden of dementia on healthcare systems is substantial, with global costs estimated at US$1 trillion annually. In addition, there is a need to address mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety as well as issues related to mobility and independence, such as fall prevention, assistive technology, and accessible transportation.
“As per the Global Health Estimates data of the year 20191, the leading causes of the DALYs (Disability-adjusted life years) lost in the elderly (above 60 years of age) are due to non-communicable diseases like ischemic heart diseases, stroke and diabetes, which develop mostly due to the consequences of ageing”, it added.
Moreover, the report stated that many seniors, especially women and those residing in rural areas, face challenges in accessing healthcare due to the limited availability of geriatric specialists and services, high out-of-pocket costs and a lack of awareness about age-related health issues.
It projected that healthcare systems will face numerous challenges in providing affordable and accessible healthcare services to older adults because of their diverse physical and mental needs, along with their social and financial challenges.
Besides health issues, hygiene-related issues also affect the quality of life among the elderly negatively, it added. “Though open defecation was a major concern earlier, the steps taken by the Government have curtailed the issue to a large extent, but disabled-friendly sanitation facilities are still lacking in most public spaces.
“The ageing population also has significant implications for India’s social and welfare system. Many older adults in India rely on their children for financial support and care in their later years. However, with the shift towards smaller nuclear families and increased migration due to work, education and marriage; the elderly are left behind with scarce or practically no support system”, it stated.
Also, the NITI Aayog report pointed out that there are numerous negative stereotypes and stigma associated with ageing in India.
“Traditionally, ageing was seen as a natural part of life, and the elderly were respected and valued for their wisdom and life experience. However, in recent years, there has been a shift toward a more westernised view of ageing, where ageing is often associated with decline and loss. The elderly are often viewed as a burden and are marginalized in society.
“This shift may be due to the influence of media and globalisation, which have created a culture that values youth and beauty. These negative stereotypes about ageing can have a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of older adults, leading to social isolation, depression and other health problems”, it stated.
The report also flagged the economic impact of an ageing population as a significant concern. “As the proportion of older adults in the population increases, their contribution to the labour force decreases. Also, the social benefits extended by the elderly population through their unpaid work, which includes care tasks, volunteer activities, etc., are neither recognised nor quantified.
“Additionally, the shift in consumption patterns, as people age, can significantly impact the demand for goods and services, including housing, healthcare and social protection. The country’s pension system leaves many older adults without a reliable source of income in their retirement, so it needs to be strengthened and funded with additional resources”, it suggested.
Another concern cited was digital divide. “Seniors may face challenges in using digital devices and accessing online services due to physical, cognitive or socio-economic reasons. According to a survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), only 13 % of people aged 60 years or older have ever used the internet.
“This is significantly lower than the overall internet penetration rate in India, which is around 50%. The reasons for this low rate of internet use among seniors in India include limited access to digital devices, lack of digital literacy and limited awareness of online services. Thus, there is a growing need to bridge the digital divide for seniors”, it stated.
(Page News Service)