This golden brigade turns care­giver for sil­ver-haired

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES NATION - @times­

Sun­dera Gopalan is a su­per­hero of sorts to se­niors. She’s no caped cru­sader, but when this 76year-old grandma re­ceives a dis­tress sig­nal – which in this case comes as a fee­ble cry for help from a lonely, some­times sui­ci­dal, se­nior cit­i­zen at the other end of the phone – she swoops in, pallu pinned, to save the day.

“I don’t do any­thing dra­matic. I just en­gage in a con­ver­sa­tion, crack a few jokes or take them for a walk in the park. And then I do it again. Twice a week at least for months, un­til they feel alive again,” says Sun­dera, who vol­un­teers as a se­nior help­ing other se­niors at the Dig­nity Foun­da­tion in Chennai, an or­gan­i­sa­tion help­ing the el­derly lead ac­tive lives.

“Lone­li­ness is a killer. I was at that point in life when my hus­band died. So, I can re­late to se­niors who feel alone. I know how to help them look for­ward to life again, a hap­pier one,” she says.

With In­ter­na­tional Day for Older Per­sons com­ing up on Oc­to­ber 1, it’s in­ter­est­ing to see that sev­eral golden agers like Sun­dera are tak­ing it upon them­selves to help out their own. They vol­un­teer at old age homes, el­der care cen­tres and hos­pi­tals, ei­ther on a struc­tured ba­sis or when the op­por­tu­nity arises.

In the case of 85-year-old Ve­davalli Srini­vasagopalan, it’s when­ever she flies in from the US to visit her daugh­ter. Ve­davalli spends her day stitch­ing pouches, hand­bags and hand­ker­chiefs, which she sells to friends and neigh­bours, do­nat­ing the pro­ceeds IN SYNC: to old-age homes. Once she starts, she won’t stop, says her daugh­ter Kr­ish­naveni. “We worry about her strain­ing her­self, but she in­sists on help­ing as many peo­ple as she can,” she says.

For five years now, Chennai-based Ud­havi, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that as­sists el­ders, has been work­ing with a group of vol­un­teers, most of who are in their 70s, to help other se­niors with ev­ery­thing from a walk on the beach to a tem­ple visit, as­sis­tance at the bank, sabha hop­ping or a shop­ping spree. Says cook­book au­thor Sabita Rad­hakr­ishna, also the founder of Ud­havi, and 75 years old her­self, “The idea is to help them with day-to-day ac­tiv­i­ties as well as stave off lone­li­ness. We do what­ever it takes from tak­ing them out to restau­rants to ar­rang­ing for meet­ings be­tween el­ders from the same com­mu­nity,” says Rad­hakr­ishna.

Ac­cord­ing to Pop­u­la­tion Cen­sus 2011, there are nearly 104 mil­lion el­derly peo­ple (aged 60 years or above) in In­dia, of which 63% live be­low the poverty line. Tamil Nadu is home to 11.2% of In­dia’s el­derly pop­u­la­tion. A re­port re­leased by the United Na­tions Pop­u­la­tion Fund and HelpAge In­dia says that the num­ber of el­derly peo­ple is ex­pected to grow to 173 mil­lion in an­other eight years, and to 20% of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion by 2050.

“When you have two peo­ple of rel­a­tively the same age, there is a syn­ergy in their in­ter­ac­tion, which pro­motes a sense of well­be­ing in both the care­giver and the re­cip­i­ent,” says psy­chi­a­trist Dr R Pad­ma­vati of the Schiz­o­phrenic Re­search Foun­da­tion.

Past re­search, such as one done in 2013 by the de­part­ment of psy­chol­ogy, Boise State Uni­ver­sity, USA, sug­gests that the phys­i­cal and men­tal health of se­nior cit­i­zens, and as a re­sult their qual­ity of life, im­proved when they vol­un­teered. An­other 2014 study by Bay­crest Health Sciences in Canada and pub­lished on­line in ‘Psy­cho­log­i­cal Bul­letin’, found that older adults who stayed ac­tive by vol­un­teer­ing showed bet­ter over­all health.

B A Raju

Se­nior cit­i­zens at a class on ‘how to use smartphones’ at Nim­madhi War Wi­d­ows Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion in Chennai

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