Lonely old age Chinmay Prasun Biswas01 October 2022
In Bibhutibhushan's novel Pather Panchali (published in 1929, filmed by Satyajit Ray in 1955) old Indir Thakrun lay dead unnoticed in a bamboo grove. That scene is still being acted in the cottages of the poor, sometimes in the aristocratic residences. Experts say that loneliness epidemic has already begun in developed countries and developing countries are at the doorstep of it. Improved healthcare facilities are prolonging age. Families are getting smaller. Its inevitable result is old-age loneliness.
Along with the advancement of medical facilities average life expectancy of people in Bangladesh has increased i.e. number of elders is increasing. Who are the elders? Although people aged 65 years are considered elderly in industrially developed countries, as per United Nations declaration people aged 60+ are recognised as elderly. As per provision of rule 8(1) of the National Elderly Policy, 2013 government has declared 60+ persons as senior citizens.
Number of 60+ citizens in Bangladesh 8.3% of total population which may rise upto 11.1% by 2030. On the other hand, number of 65+ peopled will be 7.4% by 2030 and 11.1% by 2040 (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics). Although the number of elderly people is increasing, infrastructure and manpower required for their service and treatment is still inadequate. Probably no one in Bangladesh needs to go very far to see the sufferings of elderly people.
Population expert Professor AKM Nur-un-Nabi says that by 2046 there will be more elderly people than minors in Bangladesh. More than 6% people are working in Bangladesh now. If the number of elderly people increases further, after three decades there will be a big deficit in overall production. If we can't integrate these elderly people into different processes in society, one day they will become a burden. Eve if this situation remains stagnant, at some point a working person will have to take responsibility of three generations - his own, his parents and even grandparents. Certainly everyone will not have that economic ability. (BBC Bangla, 27th April, 2017).
According to Professor ASM Atiqur Rahman, Secretary General of Bangladesh Association for the Aged (Praveen Hitaishi Sangstha), the oldest organisation established for the service of the elderly in Bangladesh, healthcare for the elderly will be one of the biggest challenges. There is nothing special for the elderly in medical system but health needs of the elderly are much more complex and expensive than other age groups. He added that even if the demand increases, financial capacity of the elderly normally decreases and his demand does not get priority over other members of the family.
Number of old homes in Bangladesh is very few. People living in old homes in Bangladesh normally do not go there willingly. They want to be live with family but it is not happening. Number of joint families is declining and people are moving from villages to cities or outside the country. As a result many parents are becoming lonely but adequate care for the elderly has not been developed. New system is needed to serve these vulnerable elderly people. Demographers say that need for formal services for the elderly must be increased in future.
However, government has some activities for the elderly. Most important is old age allowance under which 31 lakh senior citizens are being given an allowance of Tk. 500/- per month. There are allegations that in paying this allowance, in many cases personal connection with concerned people and their individual liking are preferred to those who actually need it. In addition, senior citizens, as declared in 2013, are supposed to get priority in different fields including healthcare but it has not yet been implemented fully. Moreover, in 2013, the Parental Maintenance Act was passed by making parental care compulsory for children though its application is very low and there is huge lack of awareness of it.
Dr. Mohsin Kabir of Dhaka Aged Hospital has formed an organaistion named Praveen Bandhu (Friend of the Aged) for young people. According to him, the youths need to come forward for the aged because present young generation will suffer from the problem of the elderly. "The facility that we will build for the elderly, we will enjoy it later," he thinks.
As decided by The United Nations, International Day of Older Persons is internationally observed on 1st October every year from 1991but we have many things to do in this field. At present there is only one government specialised hospital for the elderly in Bangladesh. Some old age homes has been set up under private initiative but very few elderly people can be accommodated in all these. There are many elderly people in Bangladesh who are working hard in old age. Although there is financial security of pension in government service it is not available in most private sectors. Many do not take into account the long-term preparation for aging. If a savings arrangement can be made after the age of 30, one can get financial security even in old age.
(The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes).