In a country where joint families are still the norm rather than the exception, there is still largely a natural and automatic support system for the old and the infirm. So, the concept of old age homes is still rather an alien one, and one that is not very well digested by people because of the association they have with abandonment and indifference to the elderly.

Abandonment of the elderly has many faces

(image Source)

(Image Source)

In urban areas, where houses are small and a family’s resources meager, many families feel justified in abandoning their elders or leaving them to the mercies of strangers in ill –equipped ‘homes’ typically run by charitable institutions or well meaning volunteers. Even in rural areas, we do hear of cruel treatment of elders, exploitation and neglect.  There are few or no government institutions that will take care of the elderly. The financial burden of taking care of an elderly person perhaps with special needs or with some mental or physical impairment can place considerable burden on a resources of a family with modest means.

We also do not have a culture of saving for our old age. Indian parents assume that if they have successfully produced a son or two, the male offspring is a safe deposit for their old age. The fact is that the elderly do often have special needs, may be immobile or have restricted mobility, that some families seem helpless to deal with.

Not that it is unreasonable for parents to expect care and compassion in their twilight years, but parenthood ought not to be viewed as a debt that children have to repay. The expectation of a return on investment from children, so to speak, especially when a family is ill-equipped to deal with the situation, may be misplaced.

Old age homes need a perception makeover

(Image Source)

(Image Source)

Old age homes are often spoken of as a shameful consequence of uncaring and callous children, but they aren’t necessarily so. A well equipped and staffed retirement facility or a home for the elderly could actually offer several benefits to the elderly: attendants or nurses to care for medical conditions or to respond to accidents, other like-minded individuals for emotional support and physical company, facilities for recreation and so on.

This would certainly be a better option than old parents living in a home that is ill equipped for their needs, where their child is hard pressed to find the time and the resources to look after them and spend time with them with the many other claims on them. It would be better for us as a society to create safe and suitable options for older people rather than to disapprove of and heap recrimination upon families who may genuinely be unable to look after their elderly in spite of the willingness to do so. And let’s not tar all old age homes with the same brush; they are not all sad, derelict and joyless place where people come to die.  Community living for the elderly can be in happy, supportive and workable environments; let us not dismiss the option out of hand as children being ungrateful to their parents.


Author: Reena Daruwalla