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Home > Movies > Interviews

The Rediff Interview

Circle of care

M D Riti | July 03, 2003

The 10 or so senior citizens atthe old house in Malleswaram, Bangalore, looked as jolly as a bunch of school children. "Come on, search harder," they urged one another, as they happily exchanged clues. The members of the Nightingales Elders Enrichment Centre were engaged in a treasure hunt, the prize for which was a Parker pen set.

There are currently more than 70 million people who are above the age of 60 in India. The figure is expected to reach 177 million by 2025; mainly due to the increase in the average life expectancy of every Indian.

Earlier, the joint family system sustained the elderly emotionally and financially. Today, many older men and women choose to live on their own; their adult children live independent lives, sometimes in the same city. "I live alone with my wife," says T Shamanna (name changed). "My son lives with his family just four streets away. Since we are financially independent, we find it more peaceful to lead our own independent lives."

For such people, centres like the NEEC provide the ideal outlet for their limited energy. "I don't know how I would have spent my day without the centre and its activities," says retired director general of police P G Ramchandra.

"It gives my morning such a nice start," adds senior citizen Suresh Kilpadi who begins his day at NEEC with a session of yoga, followed by an hour or two of conversation with likeminded contemporaries.

The centre is now almost four years old. It began as an offshoot of Nightingale's home health services, a purely commercial medical service. "We found that a lot of the emotional and social needs of our older customers were being completely overlooked," says Nightingale co-founder Dr Radha Murthy. "This often led to medical problems. We realised it is very important that our senior citizens have places where they could spend their days meeting peers and doing fun things."

Which is why they started NEEC in December 1999 and, within a month or two, they had many interested applicants. Today, they have 265 members. "We have many new members joining all the time. Sadly, many pass away as well," says trustee Prem Kumar Raja.

Single members pay a registration fee of Rs 1,500. Couples pay a joint fee registration fee of Rs 2,000. Membership fees are just Rs 125 a month for singles and Rs 200 for couples. The minimum eligibility age to join the centre is 55 years. Earlier it was 60, but many male members complained this made their wives too young to be eligible!

The centre provides certain unique services. One is, for example, a day care service for the elderly, at Rs 125 per day. Anyone who has an old parent or a friend who cannot be left home alone while the family is out attending a social event or is busy with work can be taken care of between 9 am and 5.30 pm. If they live within a distance of four or five kilometres from
the centre, they are picked up and dropped back of free of cost. At the centre, they are provided a bed to rest in, nursing services, a medical consultation, access to a doctor through the day if required, lunch, beverages like tea and coffee, and entertainment in the form of the numerous programmes.

At present, only four or five elderly men and women use this day care facility regularly, and all of them need special care because they suffer from Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease or other such debilitating ailments. A few others use the facility occasionally.

The centre also has a Parkinson's support group, which is probably the only one of its kind in Bangalore. This group offers special care and exercises for those who suffer from Parkinson's disease.

For its other members, the centre has a whole range of activities, which usually keeps them occupied for at least three to four hours every weekday. There is a daily yoga class, taught by NEEC member S S Gawde. This is usually followed by a variety of programmes like talks,literary activities like book reading, music appreciation programmes and educational programmes where members' skills in areas like singing and speaking English are enhanced.

On some days, outings are organised. There are picnics and excursions. There are visits to slums, old age homes and orphanages. The first Saturday of every month is usually reserved for a joint birthday celebration of all members whose birthday fell during that month.

"There are frequent talks on subjects that are relevant to us like geriatric health, how much we should exercise our ageing bones and the security precautions that those of us who live alone should take," says housewife M V Rajamma, who comes to here often. "We listen to the talks, interact with the speakers, then spend some time socialising with our friends here over biscuits and tea before we return home, well entertained."

"Without this place, we would have had nothing much to do all day, as both our children live in the US," says N K Murthy, who also heads the NRI Parents Association of Bangalore. Many senior citizens like the Murthys, who lived part of their retired life overseas, returned home to India because they found life here more entertaining and physically less arduous. "We live alone here, but have good domestic staff to help us with managing our home. The centre takes care of a lot of our spare time," says former coffee planter Neelakant Narayan, who spent 10 years of his retirement in the US before moving to Bangalore.

For many others, NEEC helps them fulfil their aspirations. "When I lost my youngest son, who was a doctor, to cancer, my husband and I decided to do social service in his name," says Padmavathi Chandrashekhar. "This centre makes that possible because it helps us volunteer our services regularly at slums, orphanages and old age homes."

The members are actively involved in the centre's administration and in planning the day-to-day activities. "We plan, put together and even organise the financing of our own newsletter," says D P Burde, who heads this endeavour.

India has a National Policy for Older Persons, formulated in 1998, which comprises a number of interventions that could improve the lot of the elderly in our country. According to the policy, the State should extend support to the elderly in terms of financial security, health care, shelter, education and welfare of the elderly. It should also provide protection against abuse and exploitation, make available opportunities for developing the potential of older persons and also provide services that would lead to an improvement in the quality of their lives. The UN General Assembly has also urged governments to articulate and develop relevant policies in this context.

Butuntil all this is implemented cogently -- and it does not look like it will happen in the near future -- recreation centres like this one might well be the best option for the older generation in our country to keep themselves happy and occupied. "We hope that, in our own small way," saysDr Murthy, "we are helping keep the Indian family structure intact by helping the older people in our families find emotional fulfilment recreation and peace of mind."

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Number of User Comments: 18

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Posted by saritha

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Posted by Dr.Raghu.B.S.

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