Health of the Elderly in India: Issues and Implications
S. Siva Raju
Introduction Given the trend of population ageing in India, the elderly face a number of problems and adjust to them in varying degrees. These problems range from absence of ensured and sufficient income to support themselves and their dependents, to ill-health, absence of social security, loss of social role and recognition, and the non-availability of opportunities for creative use of free time. For a developing country like India, the rapid growth in the number of older population present issues, barely perceived as yet, that must be addressed if social and economic development is to proceed effectively. Gore (1993) opined that in developed countries population ageing has resulted in a substantial shift in emphasis between social programmes causing a significant change in the share of social programmes going to older age groups. But in developing society these transfers will take place informally and will be accompanied by high social and psychological costs by way of intra-familial misunderstanding and strife. Among the problems of elderly, health problems and medical care are the major concern among a large majority of the elderly. The present paper focuses on the health of the elderly in India. This is based on a comprehensive review of the studies conducted on the elderly in India and also suggests measures to improve their health status. Health Conditions of the Elderly It is obvious that people become more and more susceptible to chronic diseases, physical disabilities and mental incapacities in their old age. As age advances, due to deteriorating physiological conditions, the body becomes more prone to illness. The illness of the elderly are multiple and chronic in nature. In the later years of life, arthritis, rheumatism, heart problems and high blood pressure are the most prevalent chronic diseases affecting the people. Some of the health problems of the elderly can be attributed to social values also. The idea that old age is an age of ailments and physical infirmities is deeply rooted in the Indian mind, and many of the sufferings and physical troubles within curable limitations are accepted as natural and inevitable by the elderly. Regarding the health problems of the elderly, having different socio-economic status, it was found (Siva Raju, 2002) that while the poor elderly largely attribute their health problems, on the basis of easily identifiable symptoms, like chest pain, shortness of breath, prolonged cough, breathlessness / asthma, eye problems, difficulty in movements, tiredness and teeth problems; the upper class elderly, in view of their greater knowledge of illnesses, mentioned blood pressure, heart attacks, and diabetes which are largely diagnosed through clinical examination. Gore (1990), by analyzing the social factors affecting the health of the elderly, concluded that, while there were no data showing direct relationship between income level and health of elderly individuals, it could be assumed that the nutritional and clinical care needs of the elderly were better met with adequate income than without it. If so, the poor countries and the poorer
Professor, Unit for Urban Studies, Tata institute of Social Sciences, Deonar, Mumbai-400088, India
segments of the elderly population within each country would experience problems of health and well being. The idea that old age is an age of ailments and physical infirmities is deeply rooted in the Indian mind, and many of the sufferings and physical troubles within curable limitations are accepted as natural and inevitable by the elderly Some clinical studies have found that multiplicity of diseases was normal among the elderly and that a majority of the old were often ill with chronic bronchitis, anemia, hypertension, digestive troubles, rheumatism, scabies and fever. Some of the cases of disability among the elderly, as reported by a few medical studies, were difficulty...
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