Respect for individuality is a core value in the human society and in case of elderly it is even more needed because the elderly are usually not as able as the younger population to stand up for their rights and their decisions.
According to the law, a "senior citizen" means any person being a citizen of India, who has attained the age of sixty years or above. India has fastest growing demography of Sixty-plus, yet there are no significant public policies to address the elderly.
As per the 2011 Census, citizens over the age of 60 years comprise 8.6% of India’s population, and their share of the population is projected to grow to 21% by 2050.
With more than 135 million elderly people, India today has the second-largest population of senior citizens who deserve care and concern.
Further, the fast-paced and ever-changing life of today is continuously widening the gap between generations and thus the creation of a happy environment for the elderly is our traditional, moral, and now even legal responsibility.
The elderly faces many challenges related to financial security, healthcare and nutrition, shelter, protection of life and property and issues such as loneliness, abuse and neglect.
This decline in the global workforce will lead to an increase in the age dependency ratio which is the ratio of working-age to old-age individuals. Globally, the dependency ratio in 1970 was 10 workers for each individual over age 64, but the expected ratio in 2050 is four workers for each person over 64.
The well-being of senior citizens is mandated in the Constitution of India under Article 41. ‘The state shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to public assistance in cases of old age’. The Right to Equality is guaranteed by the Constitution as a fundamental right. Social security is the concurrent responsibility of the central and state governments.
It requires persons who have sufficient means to take care of his or her parents if they are unable to take care of themselves. It facilitates monthly maintenance of Rs. 500 to the beneficiaries.
It requires Hindu sons and daughters to maintain their elderly parents when parents are unable to maintain themselves.
It is an Act to provide for maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens for ensuring their basic needs; safety and security; establishment, management and regulation of institutions and services; and for the rights guaranteed and recognised under the Constitution and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
It requires children to provide maintenance for their parents, and the government to provide old age homes and ensure medical care for senior citizens. It sets up Administrative Tribunals and Appellate Tribunals to ensure maintenance.
Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has taken many progressive steps for their welfare. The ministry develops and implements acts, policies and programmes for senior citizens in collaboration with State Governments/ Union Territory administrations to ensure that senior citizens lead a secured, dignified and productive life.
Senior Citizens and COVID 19
COVID-19 has changed the older people’s daily routines, the care and support they receive, their ability to stay socially connected and how they are perceived.
Older people are being challenged by requirements to spend more time at home, lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, temporary cessation of employment and other activities; and anxiety and fear of illness and death – their own and others.
The health insurance cost has become prohibitively expensive for senior citizens at a time of their lives when their medical needs are greatest. For example, two 70+ members of a family have to shell out more than Rs. 60,000 per year to get a megre Rs 3 lakh medical cover each. Even with medical insurance, they usually have to bear 20-30% of hospital bill out of their pockets, as insurance does not cover all expenses. This is after undergoing the hassles and harassment from the insurance companies to reimburse expenses on all kinds of pretexts.
For the elderly, ethics is about how they want to be treated and allowed to make their own decisions.
For family members as caregivers, ethics is about doing what is right even when no one is looking.
For professionals providing eldercare, ethics is about adherence to established canons of ethics promulgated by organizations.
Each of the stakeholders has to fulfill one’s ethical duty for the betterment of elderly people.
This can be linked to the theory of Ethics of Care.
Care involves treating people not only with respect but actually attempting to empathize with them and try to help them in anyway that is feasible. The distinctive elements of an ethic of care are:
Hence, Ethic of Care is a theory that is centered around the interdependence of all individuals. It takes into account the fact that certain communities and people are more vulnerable than others, and that you (as the non-vulnerable population) should afford extra consideration to the vulnerable community depending on how they are affected by your choices. Ethic of care also asserts that there is no universal truth; it considers the contextual details of a moral situation to promote the specific needs and interests of the vulnerable communities.
Ethic of Care does not promote a dependency relationship between people but talks about maintaining a relationship of interdependence and mutual efforts and benefits.
Elders need love, care and affection. They do not need sympathy but the interrelation that depends on mutual care and respect. There is a need to understand their views, cultural norms to avoid clash. The balanced interdependence of communities and individuals is paramount
As a society, we have an obligation to ensure that the elderly receive the care they need and that their human dignity, right to self-determination and right to live according to their personal values are respected.
For all this to happen, government intervention is very much important along with high-level social organizations. Holistic approach to address the issue of social problems of elders is need of the hour.
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