THE LIFE span of human beings is marked by successive change of events beginning from gestation and ending in death through successive periods of infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and senescence. The process of growth starts with the uterine life and ends around twenty years post natal life when all linear increments of the body stop and the internal organs fully develop. Almost a decade later, the body starts losing all vital capacities gradually and it is believed to be the onset of ageing. Growing old is a characteristic feature of all living creatures but man stands out distinctly from others in thinking about it.
Old age is inevitable. Every person on the earth has a dream of living a long life. It is no more a dream as it has become possible because of the advancement in the field of medical sciences. But old age is the most critical stage a person goes through. It is the stage where man faces problems socially, physically, mentally and even economically. In India, old age was never a problem. Elder abuse was considered as a western problem and old age home was an alien concept. Earlier the elderly persons of a family were respected a lot and they continued to live with respect till their death.
But now the times have changed. The elderly are treated as burden. Old age is quite similar to childhood in many respects. The way a child or a baby is unable to do any work on his/her own and is dependent on their parents every now and then, an old person is also dependent on another person for getting their work accomplished as they are no longer physically fit. But here one should notice the irony. These old people are the same who took care of their children when were small. They did so willingly, without any complaint. They never considered their children as a burden.
But the same children when they grow up find it difficult to take care of their old parents. In their childhood, their parents had spent sleepless nights catering to their needs but when parents become old the children start finding out ways to get rid of them so that they can enjoy their life in peace. Earlier joint family system was prevalent in India and the elderly enjoyed a respectable position in the family. But now with the deterioration of the joint families into nuclear units, the respectable position which the elderly enjoyed earlier has also eroded.
If a couple has got more than one son and they are staying in nuclear families then the parents have to stay with each son for equal period of time. This system should not be mistaken with the thought that the sons love their parents so much that they want their parents to spend equal time with each one of them. Instead it is the burden which they want to divide among themselves. The old parents are burden to them both physically and economically. How do such children forget that these old people are the same parents who never thought of sharing them with others, no matter how many problems they faced in bringing them up?
A couple with four sons is asked to spend three months with each son when they grow old. But when they were small their parents never thought of sharing their four children with other people to reduce their problems. And if the elderly are equipped with a healthy bank balance then there is a fight among the children to keep their parents with them. Though it sounds unbelievable but it’s true that there are children who leave their old parents as destitute to die. This has added to the mushrooming of old age homes in India.
What I think is that old age homes should be homes only to those types of people who don’t have anybody to look after them in their old age. But it’s very sad that this is no more a reason for the old to live in such homes. Rather it has become a blessing for those children who consider their old parents as burden and have no time for them. These homes are a bane for the old. They find it convenient to leave their parents in such homes once they get old and thus the children get rid of their parental responsibilities. Now earning more and more money has become the sole motive of the people.
To fulfill this desire, both the husband and wife are opting to go out to earn money. As a result these old parents are left behind neglected with no one to take care of them. This does not mean that women should not go out to work but it also does not mean that they should neglect their in-laws. They should try to balance their official and family responsibilities. Instead of putting their parents in old age homes, they can hire a person to take care of their parents at home when they are out in their offices. They shouldn’t forget that their old parents are a treasure for them and their children.
Their parents are the ones who transfer the age old traditions and culture to the grandchildren. When the old have to live in the old age homes in spite of having children to take care of them, they have to go through severe mental trauma. They get the feeling of being unwanted and unproductive in the society. Nowadays awareness campaigns on various social issues are being conducted but it seems everyone has forgotten this valuable section – the elderly of the society. The younger generation should be made aware of the fact that the elderly are an asset to the society and not a burden.
Putting old parents in old age homes should be considered as a secondary option by the children and not as the only option for taking better care of their parents. The people who do not have enough economic resources to fulfill all the necessities of their old parents and if they find that they can be given better care in old age homes then they can go for such options. When till date, parents don’t find it a better option to put their children in creches when they go out for work then why at all shall the children think of putting their parents in old age homes?
The government and the non- governmental organisations should think seriously about this problem. This problem can also be solved to some extent if the elderly also give it a serious thought. They should prepare for their old age gracefully and should secure their old age economically. They should save enough money for themselves so that they don’t have to depend for each and everything on their children. Economic security will also enhance their decision making power in the family.