The progressive State of Kerala is witnessing an issue these days - nearly 15.3 per cent of Kerala's 32 million people are the elderly. This means there are over 4.5 million people in the State above 60 years of age.
According to a study done on elderly people in Kerala, nearly one million elderly people are added to the census every year since 1981. The report also says that around 2.36 million Keralites lived abroad. Of them, 90 per cent were in the Middle East. It is therefore hardly surprising then that more and more elderly are in need of nursing are left alone to fend for themselves.
A Christian priest who preferred anonymity says that the rich in Kerala, especially in the central district, face loneliness. The priest adds, "Many thought the rich will not have problems because money can buy anything. But I have seen that children of not so rich families care more for their aged parents."
90-year old Annamma Thomas (name changed) is one of the elderly persons living in Kerala. She is at a plush geriatric centre in Kochi, lying in a vegetative state for months. Her only daughter flies from Britain every 45 days to see her and this routine visit is going on for about 10 years ever since Ms. Thomas lost her husband about a decade back.
There are many more rich elderly in the State passing their sunset years in such centres. Their children live abroad and are too busy to take care of their aged parents. There is also another reason why elderly chose to go to old age homes - the elderly prefer to have their freedom instead of being controlled by their children. In some cases, when they have the resources, they opt to go into plush old age homes.
It is interesting to note that based on World Health Organisation estimates, the number of people over 60 is expected to double over the next decade - and more than treble by 2050 to two billion, most in the developing world.
According to Pope Francis who participated in a special event in Vatican sometimes back, while addressing a gathering including many old people said, "A society which doesn't care for its grandparents has no future".
The Pope denounced what he called a "throwaway culture" where old people were discarded - and said old people's home could not become "prisons" where business interests took precedence over care. Pope Francis has condemned the practice of leaving the elderly in care homes as a form of "hidden euthanasia".
He stressed the importance of taking care of the elderly properly and warned of a 'poisonous' culture in which they are effectively abandoned in institutions where they may suffer neglect and loneliness. At a special mass in Rome to honour grandparents, the Pope praised the value of the older generation to society.
In India, educated parents and enlightened parents can do well to teach their children from a very young age the need and importance of looking after aged parents/grand parents nicely in the old age.