Written by Dr. Swetha Suresh, Manager Entrepreneurship and Innovation, swissnex India
While I wait at a notoriously busy intersection in Bangalore on my way to work, I can’t help but notice the melee of kids going to school and office goers. Statistically every third person in any Indian city today is a “youth”. India’s youthfulness is all set to be a key driver for economic growth. In the next 20 years, India will have one of the youngest demographics in the world and also be home to over 300 million elderly people; the entire population of USA.
Traditionally India follows a patrilocal living arrangement, in which a new couple stays with the parents of the groom. As economic forces shift to urbanized areas, children are moving away from their parents. This phenomenon is seen across socioeconomic strata. Consider my own case, my parents stay 400 km away and in-laws 1,000 km away. My husband and I moved cities for better job opportunities while work, social circle and a sense of belonging keeps them where they are. My domestic help and her family live 3,000 km apart. She moved cities for the same reason as me – better job opportunities but cannot afford to bring her parents because living in a metro city is very expensive. How can we then mainstream the elderly and reduce their vulnerability?
The Indian government is addressing this by developing elderly care programs. The National Program for Healthcare for Elderly uses a community based approach by building capacity within the family to provide geriatric healthcare. It also provides for Regional geriatric centres and easy access to primary healthcare centres. The government also offers free screening and treatment for several non-communicable diseases under the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular diseases and Stroke.
To design thoughtful interventions, it is necessary to understand the full spectrum of health, economic, social well-being and population ageing processes of India’s elderly. The Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (LASI) launched on 22 March, 2016 aims to do just that. With a budget of 100 crores, LASI will follow 60,000 Indians to understand effects of ageing on the country for the next 25 years. LASI will cover 29 states, 2 union territories and 4 metropolitan cities so that the data can be used to derive insights at both the state and national level. LASI comprises of household survey, individual survey and collection of biomarkers. The household survey will capture socio-economic data; individual survey will capture demographics, family and social networks, health, work and employment, pensions and expectations; and molecular biomarkers to investigate determinants of health outcomes. LASI survey is undertaken by the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, in collaboration with Harvard School of Public Health and University of Southern California.
Government programs can only do so much and there are a lot more people who need help to take care of themselves. Can technology share the load? Technology is changing everything including ageing and quality of life for the elderly. Several startups have burgeoned to address elderly needs. Take Senior Shelf, an online shopping portal that sells care products and services exclusively for senior citizens. Or Pramati Care and Portea who offer specialized home care treatment using qualified caregivers. Lack of engagement and social companionship often hampers the quality of life of senior citizens. Seniorworld and Silver talkies offer customized group holidays and participatory events to fill this niche. For the active elderly, property companies like TATA housing offer user friendly homes with integrated medical facilities, shops, pharmacies, fitness, doctor on call, domestic-help and recreational facilities. Living in such senior residential complexes also satisfy the need of a peer group.
While several technologies for the elderly have been developed in the western world, these have remained inaccessible due to high costs. Further, the rich and the poor have different requirements. The ones who can afford seek smart homes, fall detection, rehabilitative and assistive devices while the poor need corrective glasses and hearing aids.
Through innovation funding like Technology Incubation and Development of Entrepreneurs, Technology Interventions for Elderly and Biodesign program, the government has funded development of indigenous technologies. Consure medical is tackling fetal incontinence in bedridden by means of a stool management kit Qora that directs stools into an odor proof collection bag. Qora is the world’s first FDA approved indwelling fecal drainage device for the management of fecal incontinence that can be used across a continuum of care facilities from ICUs to nursing homes. While fall detection sensors speed up treatment rates, IIT-Delhi has come up with a cost-effective smart underwear that cushions the fall and protects the hip. Nayam Innovations is developing an artificial implant of the eye to treat cataract and its post-surgical refractive error complications addressing the population that subsists on less than Rs. 500 per day.
A combination of good public policy, use of technology and individual action will surely help India in overcoming the challenges along the path of demographic transition.