On 24 February, a British film ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ – starring the great and good of British cinema, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy – goes on general release. A group of British pensioners decide to move to India to spend their retirement in a less expensive and seemingly ‘exotic’ home for older people. Inevtiably, all is not what it seems.
The film throws up questions about care for older people both in the UK and India. And, with an ageing population, this is a pertinent question for individuals, families and governments around the world.
There is an assumption that older people in developing countries are always cared for by their extended families. But social and economic changes are having an impact and the extended family is breaking down.
In India, the ‘joint family’ – where brothers share the family home with their parents even after they are married and have families of their own – is becoming more and more rare. According to UN population statistics, now only 20% of families live in ‘joint family’ structures. This is even despite the existence of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, which obliges children to look after their parents by law.
The middle generation often migrates to urban areas or other countries in search of work, sending back remittances to provide for their parents. But as the global recession grips, it becomes harder for people to c0ntinue sending money back to care for the older generation.
Even if people work locally, it is now common practice inIndiafor both men and women to work and the situation is exacerbated by a work culture of long hours, leaving little or no time to take care of parents. Many people in later life can no longer rely on their children to care for them nor do they have the funds to pay someone else to do so.
And the problem is likely to get worse as the population continues to age. There are currently 81 million older people inIndiaand this sector of the population is growing faster than any other.
It has been estimated that there will be over 300 million people in later life inIndiaby 2051. Furthermore, 80% of older people live in rural areas and 40% live below the poverty line.
Meeting the needs of so many older people will be a huge challenge for the local and national governments of India. With less family support available, the state will need to develop a more comprehensive response to meet the needs of an ageing population.
So what can be done about this? With funds from the UK public – following the devastating Asian tsunami of 2004 – Age UK supported its sister organisation HelpAge India to establish an age-friendly village in Tamil Nadu to care for older people who had lost their homes and children.
The Tamaraikulam Elders’ Village (TEV) – named after the lotus pond within the village – also provides care for older people who have no means of support or who are faced with abuse or neglect.
Srinivasan, one of the residents says ‘My wife and I came here because we have one married daughter and our son died unexpectedly, so we couldn’t stay in our home. No one could look after us: my daughter has her new family to look after.’
The village consists of a collection of cottages for residents to live in, a doctor’s surgery, a team of care-givers, a large kitchen, a communal dining room and an exercise room that doubles up as a room for worship.
TEV provides 100 older people with a safe place to live, a good diet, 24 hour healthcare and a team of trained care givers on hand. The TEV has solar panels to provide energy. It also has livestock, a fishpond, a vegetable plot and a greenhouse and grows enough rice to feed all its residents. The goal is to become self-sufficient in both food and energy.
The more-abled-bodied members participate in voluntary committees, preparing food or producing items, such as toiletries, which they sell in order to raise money for TEV. They also take food to the less-abled bodied residents.
Srinivasan says ‘There is no difference between us and a traditional family now. In a normal family you have 4 or 5 people. Here there are 80 or more.’
The District Commissioner of Tamil Nadu is so impressed with TEV that he has drawn up plans to have an age-friendly village in every town in the state. The TEV model is truly groundbreaking. It is too early to say whether it is the way forward. But it is certainly one way …