Health of the Elderly in India: Issues and Implications
S. Siva Raju
Given the trend of population ageing in India, the elderly face a number of problems andadjust to them in varying degrees. These problems range from absence of ensured andsufficient 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 rapidgrowth in the number of older population present issues, barely perceived as yet, thatmust be addressed if social and economic development is to proceed effectively. Gore(1993) opined that in developed countries population ageing has resulted in asubstantial shift in emphasis between social programmes causing a significant changein the share of social programmes going to older age groups. But in developing societythese transfers will take place informally and will be accompanied by high social andpsychological costs by way of intra-familial misunderstanding and strife. Among theproblems of elderly, health problems and medical care are the major concern among alarge majority of the elderly. The present paper focuses on the health of the elderly inIndia. This is based on a comprehensive review of the studies conducted on the elderlyin 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 todeteriorating physiological conditions, the body becomes more prone to illness. Theillness 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 chronicdiseases affecting the people. Some of the health problems of the elderly can beattributed to social values also. The idea that old age is an age of ailments and physicalinfirmities is deeply rooted in the Indian mind, and many of the sufferings and physicaltroubles within curable limitations are accepted as natural and inevitable by the elderly.Regarding the health problems of the elderly, having different socio-economic status, itwas found (Siva Raju, 2002) that while the poor elderly largely attribute their healthproblems, on the basis of easily identifiable symptoms, like chest pain, shortness of breath, prolonged cough, breathlessness / asthma, eye problems, difficulty inmovements, tiredness and teeth problems; the upper class elderly, in view of their greater knowledge of illnesses, mentioned blood pressure, heart attacks, and diabeteswhich are largely diagnosed through clinical examination. Gore (1990), by analyzingthe social factors affecting the health of the elderly, concluded that, while there were nodata 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