Monday, May 27, 2024

Overshadowed demographic

There is no denying the demographic shift brought about by rising living standards and advancements in healthcare. The United Nations Population Fund, India (UNFPA) stated in its 2023 India Ageing Report that by 2046, it is likely that the elderly population will have surpassed the population of children (aged 0 to 15) in the nation. The decadal growth rate of India’s elderly population is currently estimated to be 41%, and by 2050, the percentage of the elderly population in the country is projected to double to over 20% of total population. According to the report, the number of people over 80 would increase at a rate of about 279% between 2022 and 2050, with a “predominance of widowed and highly dependent very old women” ~ a conclusion consistent with a pattern seen in a number of countries. Additionally, it stated that 18.7% of India’s old population is unemployed and that over 40% of them belong to the lowest quintile of wealth. It further stated that such low income levels may have an impact on the elderly population’s quality of life and use of healthcare. Because of this, the ageing of our society is a social responsibility that needs to be addressed promptly. Somehow, this on-the-brink demographic transformation of India’s has been overshadowed by the noise around its much-hyped demographic dividend: the focus has tended to be fixed on its burgeoning youth population. The number of people aged 60 and above is expected to increase drastically from 100 million in 2011 to 230 million by 2036, making up over 15% of the population. This demographic transition is a profound one that will alter India’s social fabric for generations. It is projected that 319 million people, or one-fifth of the country’s population, will be in this age group by 2050. A confluence of factors, including rising life expectancy and falling fertility rates, is responsible for this shift. The changing nature of families means that our health and social care systems need to be adjusted. As the burden of care falls on fewer family members, there’s a growing reliance on external assistance. A critical alternative that provides a range of services from aid with everyday living to specialised nursing care is home-based care. According to a recent NITI Aayog report, home healthcare has the potential to reduce unnecessary hospital visits by up to 65% and hospital costs by 20%, hence relieving pressure on hospitals. This allows elderly people to age in their familiar surroundings with dignity and lessens the burden on the healthcare system. However, this is sometimes hampered by the absence of adequate support systems. Additional pressures include having to rely on children for basic necessities and unexpected out-of-pocket medical bills. The elderly who live alone or with only their spouse may experience increased poverty and associated problems due to the migration of young people, especially from rural areas, who are of working age. According to a HelpAge India research, 34% of senior citizens rely on cash transfers and pensions, while 47% of them are financially dependent on their relatives. This emphasises how vital it is to address the senior population’s financial well-being. Also, health issues are a major concern, with conditions like blindness, locomotor disabilities, deafness and mental illness arising from senility and neurosis becoming increasingly prevalent. Despite the growing need for geriatric care facilities, rural areas lack sufficient resources, compounding the challenges faced by the elderly. Policymakers, healthcare providers and the general public must face this demographic fact head-on as we move closer to a future moulded by an ageing population. It is not only necessary to invest in a strong home healthcare infrastructure; it is also morally imperative to guarantee that all people, regardless of age, receive the assistance and care they need. It’s time to accept this impending age-related ‘revolution’ and open the door to a society that values compassion and inclusivity. Everyone deserves to age with dignity, security and happiness.