This community shows how India can improve its eldercare services amid COVID-19
India’s senior citizen population is the most vulnerable to COVID-19, which has led to a sharp increase in the demand for specialised senior care services.
As soon as the grim realities of the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, it became clear that the disease disproportionately affected senior citizens. Due to weakened health and advanced age, people aged 60 years and above faced the first brunt of the disease, just as countries across the globe had begun to lockdown.
In Italy, one of the first European countries where the virus reared its head, over 95 percent of the deaths took place in the above 60 demographic. In fact, in the US, coronavirus clusters could be traced back to a nursing home in Seattle, Washington.
Back home, many Indian states have explicitly asked senior citizens to remain indoors as the country is yet to see the peak of the first wave. This has severely hampered the social lifestyles of the elderly, and has made many of them dependent on NGOs and individuals to provide for basic necessities.
At Antara Senior Living, a commune of independent senior living residences for people aged 55 and above, the lockdown was imposed even before it was announced nationally.
Providing eldercare during lockdown
Talking about the precautions being taken at the senior care home, Rajit Mehta, Managing Director and CEO, Antara, tells SocialStory,
“We were able to stock up essentials such as medical supplies, PPE kits, food supplies, and other items, and were ready for the lockdown period. Provisions were made for the staff to stay on the campus, and they have been there ever since the lockdown. All precautionary measures have been taken to ensure the safety and well-being of the staff. Additionally, we organised mock drills for the staff to familiarise them with the ‘new normal,’ and prepare them for any unforeseen eventuality.”
Launched in 2013, Antara is a residency concept for senior living communities established in Dehradun. With another residency to-be-launched in Noida, Antara aims to provide a safe space for senior citizens, thereby improving their quality of life. It is a 100 percent subsidiary of Max India.
To minimise the impact of the lockdown on the mental health of the residents, Rajit says,
“We organised special sessions to maintain the happiness index in the premise, and engaged them in fun activities which they could participate in from the safety of their apartments. We realised that the one thing that will impact our residents the most is the lack of social interaction. Hence, the team put together a monthly activity calendar to engage them in the best possible way by maintaining social distancing norms.”
During one of the regular health check-ups, the staff realised that one of the residents was worried about the well-being of his daughter. So, the team arranged for the meeting by flying out the daughter from Mumbai to Dehradun.
Delhi-based Captain Suresh Vasudeva and Dr Kamlesh Vasudeva, two of the residents of Antara who have been living there for the last four months, say that nurses and doctors have remained available both during the day and night.
“A few days back somebody fell down late at night and had bruises on her arm and head. So, the doctors, nurses, and the staff took her on the stretcher to give treatment. She didn’t have to go out of the complex,” Dr Kamlesh says.
The state of eldercare in India
The population of senior citizens in India has been on the rise. The share of elders, as a percentage of the total population in the country, is expected to increase from around 7.5 percent in 2001 to almost 12.5 percent by 2026, and surpass 19.5 percent by 2050.
According to a WHO report, around 20 million senior citizens in India stay alone, and this number is slated to rise over the next two decades.
With nuclear families becoming popular, life expectancy increasing, and people living across geographies, the economics of caring for the elderly is becoming increasingly skewed. This phenomenon is already visible in countries like the US, where more than one million people are served by assisted living facilities.
In fact, in India, the need for more senior living centres is on the rise. As per the CII Senior Care India report 2018, the demand for senior living housing units has been identified and excelled in Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Ahmedabad, etc.
Over the years, Tier-II and III cities such as Pune, Goa, Dehradun, Ahmedabad, Coimbatore, and Lucknow, have witnessed a steady rise in demand as well.
Moreover, the demand for specialised services has now sharply shot up due to COVID-19. With families worried about the susceptibility of older members to the disease, old-age homes in cities like Ahmedabad are reportedly receiving inquiries about the availability of rooms.
Many assisted senior living facilities in Goa have also had to fend for themselves and issue their own guidelines to protect the seniors.
This has been a clarion call for the sector which requires appropriate regulations and subsidised financing, providing a sustainable income for elders to meet their daily expenses, establishing and implementing quality standards across elder care facilities, and ensuring availability and training of skilled caregivers.
While the concept of old-age homes still has negative associations with familial disputes or poor quality care provided at home, the idea of moving to a retirement village or a senior living commune is gradually catching up in India.
“There is a little apprehension among we Indians about staying in a senior living facility. Part of it comes from the cost. But, my wife and I talked to a chartered accountant, and figured out that the cost would be the same if we were to live alone due to the maintenance, utilities, etc.,” says Sutinder Kumar Varma, another resident at Antara.
“In India, senior care services are still at a nascent stage, but are expected to pick up due to the direct impact of the pandemic on the elderly population. With the ageing population and their evolving preferences, India needs to evolve its way of approaching senior care. We need more structured care programmes, targeted policies, specialised medical services, senior-friendly architecture, and economic/financial interventions to ensure a better quality of life for seniors,” adds Rajit.
Edited by Suman Singh