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On Geriatrics In Asia

A US daily published a report on deaths of elderly people, living alone in Japan, a couple of years ago. There is a startling, as well as disturbing, similarity between those events and the current situation in India.

Family has always been quite an important social institution in Japan… however, the situation has changed in recent times because of the influence of the Western culture. As a result, loneliness and lonely death of the elderly have become common phenomena in the island nation in East Asia.

The report portrayed lives in a sprawling housing complex on the outskirts of Tokyo. Thousands of apartments were built there in the 1960s, when the Japanese economy was booming. Only Upper and Upper-middle class people could live there, as people could not apply for those apartments unless they received salaries at least five-and-a-half times more the amount of rent. Those apartments were fully furnished, with all the necessary gadgets, such as fridge, television set, washing machine, etc. People used to live isolated, self-absorbed and narrowly successful lives in those apartments.

The economic growth slowed down over time. However, there was nothing to do with the slowdown, as the people of Japan started considering Western lifestyle as the ultimate yardstick to measure success, which does not reveal that when the friendless race for success fails, only loneliness remains. Occasionally, the dead body of a lonely aged person lying inside the apartment is discovered. No one notices her/his demise until the neighbours, staying in the nearest apartment, discover malodour. Despite being a decades-old resident of the apartment, no one knew the person. Well, as per that report, the number of such deaths per week was around 4,000!

Survival of those who are still alive, or waiting for death, or suffering from the fear of a lonely death should be a matter of great concern, for conscientious persons. It is heard that a nonagenarian lady has tasked one of her neighbours with keeping an eye on the window of her apartment. Some kind-hearted neighbours take care of the aged people in their locality, as well.

The living condition of senior citizens has become increasingly critical, worldwide. A large section of the society does not have minimum social security arrangements, especially in the Developing Nations. Those who used to earn by menial labour have nothing to do when they get old. Those who are a little better off because of their savings in the bank, too, are in a difficult situation, due to the fall in interest rates, as well as rising prices. In old age, people want companionship, and not money or prosperity.

Senior citizens are not productive or potential customers… hence, neither the Government, nor the Market takes them into primary consideration. Perhaps, it is the time for the younger generation to plan for their old age… at least for their own sake. It would be better if one could stop for a while to ponder about the situation prevailing, while running after success. Future means getting old, and becoming dependent on others. It should not be considered as a noble ideal, but simply as a necessary thought for our own well-being at the end of the journey that is called Life.

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