Research on ageing in India

written by Indraneel Ghose, Science and Technology counselor in New Delhi, India

 

The context

India is a young nation, and will be the youngest country in the world in the year 2020, with a median age of 29 years. However, according to the 2014 State of the Elderly report compiled by the nongovernmental organisation HelpAge India, 20% of the population will be elderly by the year 2050. While the overall population between 2006 and 2050 is expected to grow by 40%, that of the elderly (age 60 and above) will grow by 270%. The elderly population in India crossed the 100 million mark in 2014 and is expected to grow to 143 million in the next five years and reach 324 million by the year 2050.

In a previous contribution to this blog, my colleague Swetha Suresh from swissnex India has detailed how India will age in the future and some of the technological interventions available to alleviate the problems of ageing.

She has described the National Programme for Health Care of the Elderly which envisages providing promotional, preventive, curative and rehabilitative services in an integrated manner for the elderly in public healthcare facilities.

She has described the Longitudinal Ageing Study in India project which will follow 60,000 Indians to understand effects of ageing on the country for the next 25 years.

HelpAge India, has been working for the cause and care of the disadvantaged older persons in the country for the last 37 years. During this time it has implemented several projects for improving the quality of life of older persons. It has also come out with a guide, the Senior Citizens Guide 2016 which lists all the governmental schemes for the benefit of the elderly.

 

The current situation

Despite the projected numbers mentioned above, most of the interventions so far have been reactive and not prospective. It has focussed on the social aspects of ageing and dealt with service delivery and on access to benefits.

 

Public research

Research into the ageing and elderly care has not been a priority and is still in its infancy in India. Until the year 1965, any research in the area was more at the molecular level with some research being carried out at a few universities. From 1965 to 1990 the focus was more on the psychological aspects and focus on the medical aspects of ageing came in only after 1990.

In the year 2011 the Indian Council of Medical Research began a research programme on geriatrics and bio-gerontology to gather scientific evidence on the biology of ageing and the environmental health, and economic aspects of ageing. The research focus would concentrate on frailty, brain neuro-degeneration, chronic diseases and nutrition. An objective of the programme would also be to develop a multidisciplinary field of research and to create a network of researchers.

Following a workshop in 2011, the first focus area chosen to be addressed was nutrition. Following a call for proposals 45 projects have been funded and the preliminary results should be available soon.

There ae only a few research institutions dedicated to research for the elderly. Most of the research carried out so far has been individually driven in a few research institutions and universities in India.  These include the Banaras Hindu University,  the University of Hyderabad, the Guru Dev Nanak University, the King George Medical College, Bangalore University, Madras Medical College and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences to name a few.

However, new centres and institutions have either been set up in recent times or are in the planning stage. The Geriatric Mental Health Department of the King George Medical College was set up in 2011. The Department of Geriatric Medicine was set up at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 2012. The Indian Council of Medical Research has initiated the process of setting up a National institute of Ageing in New Delhi

 

Public-private partnerships

The Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council, a public private partnership of the Government of India has recently launched a programme entitled Social Innovation programme for Products: Affordable & Relevant to Societal Health (SPARSH). The programme aims at promoting the development of innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems by investing in ideas and innovations that improve health care of all Indians and encourage affordable product development in the social sector.

It has recently called for applications from innovators, start‐ups, SMEs, incubators, and academic and research institutes and the large companies to for developing innovative products and technologies under the banner of Ageing and Health with a focus on Geriatrics and Assistive Medical Technologies.

Support for innovative products and technologies in the areas of assistive products and technologies; technologies for managing emergency conditions; home‐based personalised products; management of age related diseases; fortified food for senior citizens; techniques for life style alternatives and affordable and innovative diagnostic tests will be made available. Support will be provided to take an idea to proof of concept, a proof of concept to validation or for the Implementation of delivery models of innovative products and services.

 

The initial steps to create an environment for research on the ageing have been taken. However, social dynamics in India are changing rapidly and the joint family, where generations lived together under one roof is giving way to more and more nuclear families. With this change, a system where the older generations could depend on the younger ones to provide old-age care is disappearing and the aged people will have to become more self-reliant. In this context, these steps have to be multiplied manifold to deal with the sheer numbers of aged persons in India in the coming years and decades.

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