Improving later life: Vulnerability and resilience in elderly people

Updated: Jan 1

Author: Dega Ramya Tulasi The world is experiencing an important demographic transformation: the unprecedented aging of the population in almost all developed, developing, and underdeveloped countries. The disintegration of the joint family system has led to a vulnerable position of the elderly and left them with a lack of safety, security, and self-confidence harboring feelings of social isolation in them. We should be aware that social engagement and social support are important determinants of successful aging in later life.

As we are aware that it is a fact that aging involves physical, cognitive, social, and familial losses and brings with it an increased incidence of disability and the need for assistance with activities of daily living. While there is a lot of emphasis on the physical well-being and mental wellbeing of older people being disturbed and affected badly but let us understand in detail.

According to the WHO statistics, the world’s population is aging rapidly. Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world's older adults is estimated to almost double from about 12% to 22%. In absolute terms, this is an expected increase from 900 million to 2 billion people over the age of 60. Older people face special physical and mental health challenges that need to be recognized.

Elderly people around the globe have a key role to play in terms of community development, family wellness, and building inclusiveness in society. In every household, we have elderly people who are not given the love that they deserve. Let’s not forget that elderly people are not just recipients but they are also contributors to society. Do you know? If you just sit beside them and talk for a while they will feel positive and that’s what they require nothing more than that? It is shameful on our part that we have been running behind our family, friends, job, etc but have forgotten to spend time with elders of our family or community who were the ones who taught us from our birth and continue to teach us or advise us whenever required.

The well-being of the elderly is always ignored and neglected by society and even by us in general. Did we ever think of the impact that elderly people face? Not much would be the answer but as a young changemaker, I am very much concerned about the global scenario and the impact on our elderly community who are the crucks and base of our society.

There are cases where the elderly are facing loneliness, disturbed due to family issues, their mental health is being affected on a day to day basis, many young or middle-aged or their family members ill-treat them, they are not provided good health care facilities, and many more. It’s not a new one that I am pointing out this is what we generally observe in our local communities or families in one or the other way. I wonder if we ever thought of holding their hand and just saying that “I am with you and I love you no matter how old you grow ”.Maybe not.

But here is the flip side of the coin which is truly inspiring and heart touching. A real-life story of an inspiring woman to the people of India and the world Smt. Kamalathal, an 80-year-old woman from India living in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district who recently gained attention for her one-rupee idlis, and more importantly for her kindness, will now continue to make her fluffy idlis with a little more comfort.

Photo source: New India Express

Kamalathal's story went viral after it emerged that she serves idlis, a type of savoury rice cake, for the nominal cost of 1 rupee per idli, waking up before dawn to cook them along with sambar and chutney. Kamalathal who has been making close to 1000 idlis by herself every day was seen cooking using a wood-burning stove like the old traditional methods of cooking in India. It is very rare to find a person selling idly for just one rupee in any situation until now. People usually think about money or business when they attain fame through social media but our Kamalathal from India is just to serve the people with her kindness and love.

Offers of help have poured in for a woman in Coimbatore who cooks and sells idlis for just a rupee each. Now Kamalathal is known to everyone in India as a kind-hearted person working the whole day selling idlis for a nominal price that no one has imagined i.e. now we cannot buy a bar of chocolate with one rupee she is selling idlis at the same price to everyone from past 30 years.

She was interviewed by many media persons and she says that most of the people residing near Vadivelampalayam come from a lower-middle-class background or are economically backward. They are all daily wage workers. In such a case, it is hard for them to pay Rs 15 or Rs 20 for a plate of idli every day for breakfast, "I focus only on satisfying their hunger. Hence, I priced my idlis at 1 rupee. I get profits, but the margin is less."

Just imagine Kamalathal comes from a very poor family background but still strives to feed the needy in her own capacity with so much love and heartfulness. A rear story in these uncertain times is truly helping us understand the positive nature of this wonderful woman.

A heart-melting story of an inspiring woman, an elderly woman who is just making idli to fill the stomach of the needy and who is working day and night only to serve people who cannot afford a plate of idli for 20 or 30 rupees a day. We have to take inspiration from her to support our people of all races, caste, creed, religion, and be a helping hand for each other in difficult times.

Some of the ways in which wellbeing can be enhanced among the elderly through our help:

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle: Including physical activity, especially in later life is central to improving physical and mental health because regular exercise positively affects general health, mobility, and independence, and is associated with a reduced risk of depression and anxiety. Any form of physical activity is good, to begin with, e.g take them to a small walk, teach them gardening, teach them how to use a phone or a laptop like they taught your parents or you in your childhood, teach them light dance for fun, walking the dog. At an older age, incorporating good nutrition can help not only curb chronic diseases but also helps in aiding in recovery from illnesses. Let’s give them good nutritious food that makes them healthy and strong.

Strengthening social networks helps connect older people across different age groups and enable more care within and for the community. E.g., a lot of residential societies have book clubs that organize weekly story-reading sessions for the elderly by younger volunteers. Let them free like a bird. Let them explore their like-minded or same-aged people and have interactions with them regularly.

Maintaining social interaction: Since social isolation and loneliness negatively affect both physical and mental health, particularly among older adults, it becomes all the more important to encourage social support to foster well being through building relationships. Some steps towards this could include connecting regularly with friends and family, grandchildren, or close family members making an effort to make new friends, and finding a support group in times of change.

Mental wellbeing of elderly: Today's older adult population is not likely to acknowledge mental illness or to access mental health services. Many stigmas exist regarding the meaning of mental illness. Many elderly people view mental illness as a sign of weakness and are unlikely to admit to experiencing problems, especially when they fear the loss of independence. Mental health problems can have a high impact on an older person's ability to carry out basic daily living activities, reducing their independence, autonomy, and quality of life. The first step to reducing these negative consequences is simply to make a diagnosis. Unfortunately, too often mental health problems are undiagnosed and untreated and many older people struggle without proper help or any help at all. All in all, the mental health of the elderly is the most important aspect to focus on and we cannot ignore the reality that the well-being of the elderly is on the stack, and we need to resolve this as soon as possible.

The need of the hour is to integrate the services provided by institutions, individuals as well as communities to improve the quality of life of the elderly population. In short, the narrative that Iam emphasizing is that we need to change our mindset and thought process on how we look at our elderly as a problem or as a burden in the family or our community and societies. We know that they are the first who pour immense love without any expectation. We as young changemakers should be at the forefront to help them in any way possible lend them a hand and just give them the love that they deserve. We the generation of the 21st century need to amplify our voice in support of the overall well-being of our elderly people. Let’s love our elderly, let’s care for them, and give them love and support that they undoubtedly deserve.

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