POST TIME: 9 November, 2019 00:00 00 AM
Old age homes: Remove the stigma
The demand for new modified old age homes is a reality and there is no way to shy away from that. We should embrace this fact and wear off the social stigmas with urban solutions
Sheikh Iraj

Old age homes: Remove the stigma

Shamsun Nahar is 82 years old. After working as a head librarian at Dhaka College for 30 years she retired. Her husband passed away four decades ago and now all five of her children live far from her.

While she is welcomed to stay in any one of her children's place, she stays at her own house. She is also a registered member of an old age home in Dhaka. From time to time she visits there and on some occasion spends a day or two at the old age home. Her children who live abroad first understood that their mother is living a lonely life. They also realised she requires genuine human support and Shamsur Nahar did not disagree. Visiting her friends in the old age home provides her a positive attitude towards life. Such stories echo across the country as many senior citizens themselves are opting to stay in old homes. Retirement homes or old age homes have deep social significance. It reflects on how developed our society is in terms of taking care of our elderly. Nowadays the popularity of old age homes is emerging at a rapid speed. It is a demand that will only increase with time.  

According to the Bangladesh Association for the Aged and Institute of Geriatric Medicine, 8 per cent of our present population are senior citizens. It is projected that the number of old persons in 2025, 2050, and in 2061 will be 20 million. These statistics clearly show the need for old age homes and caregivers. The demand for new modified old age homes is a reality and there is no way to shy away from that. We should embrace this fact and wear off the social stigmas with urban solutions.

With modern scientific breakthroughs in the medical field, people today are enjoying longer lives. The life expectancy of the people of Bangladesh is 72.3 according to a report by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). In our country, the retirement age is 59 and those with freedom fighters' certificates can work till 61. Our life expectancy has increased significantly thus the issue of raising the retirement age can be given a second thought.

People today are living longer active lives. This endows the senior citizens the means to work hard, hold onto their self-respect and their sense of independence. Research indicates the feeling or sense of contributing towards society and family enables a person to live a productive and meaningful life.   

At the moment under the Department of Social Welfare, there are six state-run old age homes in six divisions. Also in the 85 'Shishu Paribar' or shelter homes, which also can accommodate senior citizens. Each Shishu Paribar' or shelter home is equipped to host 10 senior citizens. Gazi Mohammad Nurul Kabir, Director General, Department of Social Services, told The Independent: "Today there are about 100 senior citizens who are living in this state-run shelter homes. Right now we providing an allowance of Taka 500 per month to 4.1 million people. We have plans to increase that sum to Taka 3000 by the year 2026. Building 8 new old homes in 8 divisions are in the pipeline. Each of those new old age homes will be able to have room for 20 senior citizens. We are also on the verge of starting an Elderly Development Foundation. The core activity of this foundation will be to work for the elderly. There will be courses on caregiving and we believe we will be able to produce skilled manpower. We have started old home cum resort a pilot project in Shylet for senior citizens who are more financially sound and want better living facilities."

Who is eligible to an old home is an important question, as Bangladesh Association for the Aged and Institute of Geriatric Medicine (BAAIGM) has its own set of rules before allowing one to register. For example, to become a member there are 3 things are taken into consideration. Those are persons who are seeking membership must be mentally and physically fit. And they would require a reference from one of their relatives. We hope in the future such rules will be more flexible.  

Bangladesh Association for the Aged and Institute of Geriatric Medicine (BAAIGM) is a non-government organisation that works with older people living in urban areas, offering them healthcare and rehabilitation. They started working since the 1960s. As part of socail work and research students from different schools and universities come to visit their elderly residents. The institute encourages mostly university students to visit for academic or research purposes.

A S M Atiqur Rahman, Secretary General of Bangladesh Association for the Aged and Institute of Geriatric Medicine (BAAIGM) told The Independent: "People with good financial resources want to have better old age homes with better faculties. In a recent visit to China I saw in their Nanjin province that they have built an elderly village, which is a brilliant concept. Those of us who are working with the elderly should check on how other developed counties are looking after their senior citizens. That will help us understand and attend the elderly people's needs more efficiently. " The number of private old homes is not certain. There are complains within the caregiving community that many organisations only have registrations but they are not factional in real life. We call ourselves a republic which is by definition is a social state. However, it's saddening that there no special insurance policies for our senior citizens. We have to understand healthier elders can be very much active members of our community and they deserve respect.

Our neighbouring counties like Japan, China Vietnam are doing great work in terms of taking care of their elderly citizens. Counties like Japan, Vietnam, and China are setting the standard when it comes to providing different proactive facilities to their elderly population. Many countries have insurance policy universal pension schemes for their senior citizens. Every month senior citizens receive Taka 500, which many believe is an insult to them. Thus many do not care to receive it, even if they are eligible to it.

Dr. Mohsin Kabir, Chairman, Probin Bondhu Foundation, which works with elderly people said: "Vietnam has made sure their senior citizen starting from the age of 60 does not go on full retirement. Vietnam has found ways to engage them in different activities that generate money. By doing so they are giving their senior citizens a sense of belonging towards the community. They feel more motivated to work which eventually leads to better health. We have good necessitate for modern old homes with more facilities. We also require skilled caregivers. There is a good demand for caregivers in abroad. Already counties like Japan are reciting caregivers from Bangladesh."   

National Policy on Older Presons-2013, in Bangladesh persons at their age of 60 or above will be considered as older persons. In 2014 the President of Bangladesh formally declared the older persons as Senior Citizens of the country. The elderly population of the world by the year 2050 is projected to be 20 per cent. On the other hand, the number of youths will be 19 per cent, thus the elderly population will outnumber the youths. This is indeed a grave issue that mass and the Government both should look upon it will caution. We need to promote the idea of building more private old homes. Old home are build out as part of social work is an old idea now.  Today modern old homes are a demand of time which has a genuine revenue generating capacity.

The writer is a journalist working for The Independent