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Last Updated: Aug 19th, 2006 - 22:18:38

Aging Channel
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Medical News : Health : Aging

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Celebrating old age by making a difference in society
Apr 18, 2006, 07:10, Reviewed by: Dr. Priya Saxena

The number of senior citizens in India is estimated to be around 80 million, which is larger than the entire population of Britain.

The new mantra for the pensioners and the ageing millions in the country is not to give in to despair but celebrate life by using acquired skills to provide a helping hand to others, say experts.

"I try not to be a burden on anyone. I want a smile on everyone's face and am prepared to support anyone as much as I can so that together we can serve others," says Justice Ranganath Misra, who has long been championing the cause of senior citizens.

At 81, the former chief justice of India and advisory board member of the Delhi-headquartered Agewell Foundation is looking forward to more years of service to society - trying to clear the backlog of court cases through the fast track.

Moving away from the stereotype image of the elderly as lonely, neglected and helpless, Misra firmly believes that age is no bar to "facing life ahead upgrading skills, using our talents to serve others and trusting younger generation to lead their own lives".

Several others share the same views and are striving in their own ways to help prepare people for old age.

"Problems of the aged are not confined to the elderly but also impact the younger generation," A.M. Sethna, president of Parzor Foundation that deals with issues of the Parsi community, told IANS.

Around 30 percent of youths in the Parsi community have not been able to get married as they have the responsibility of their elderly parents, said Sethna.

He revealed that 31 percent of the Parsi community living in India comprised people over 60 years, a higher average than in any other community or country.

The number of senior citizens in India is estimated to be around 80 million, which is larger than the entire population of Britain.

"It is estimated that the number of people above 60 in India is set to reach 137 million by 2021," said Himanshu Rath, chairman of the Agewell Foundation that has developed a chain of over 6,300 dedicated volunteers across the country in the last seven years reaching out to over 4.8 million senior citizens.

"Our message is that older people do not need charity or sympathy. They need respect, companionship and opportunities to live with their beliefs."

Rath is not too keen on the concept of old age homes, describing them as "one-way traffic" as relatives rarely visit and the elderly are left to lead a lonely existence till they die. "It is a morbid situation.

"In any case with just about 1,000 old age homes in the country with a maximum of 25,000 beds they are hardly adequate to meet the rising number of elderly."

With increasing number of people living on their own either out of choice or compulsion as their children pursue their own lives and careers in India or abroad, there are a number of issues that communities have to address, feel the experts.

The Agewell Foundation is striving to create awareness among the elderly and the young about the social, medical and legal rights of senior citizens.

The foundation has also recently started a helpline to find employment for the elderly as tutors, accountants and other tasks where their work experience and skills can be utilised with benefit to both sides.

To focus on the issue of rising violence against and abuse of elders, India too will observe the World Day for Elder Abuse on June 15 by striving to create awareness among community leaders.

"Lots of people have found their own mechanism to take care of themselves but there is still a need to remove the dependency element," said Mala Kapur Shankardass, a gerontologist and sociologist.

"As the population of elders increases, there is need to ensure that people in peril and facing abuse have some sort of protection," said Shankardass, chairperson of the Development Welfare and Research Foundation who works with the UN and others to ensure that the elderly are able to live safely on their own.

- Indo-Asian News Service

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