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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Caring for the elderly

The needs of the elderly are unique and distinctive as they are vulnerable. Health, economic and psychological needs are most important. Among the medical problems, vision (cataract) and degenerative joint disease top the list, followed by neurological, cardiovascular and urinary diseases.

Malignant diseases account for a sizeable extent of morbidity. Other problems of concern are malnutrition, frequent falls and cognitive dysfunction. To compound this, the aged often have more than one illness.

Most of the elderly do not need institutional care if they are treated early in their illness. They often silently suffer the progression of diseases leading to an abrupt functional decline, which is then wrongly attributed to ageing. Therefore, geriatrics involves treating acute illnesses as well as managing the rehabilitative and long-term care of the aged.

In addition, the old are more prone to developing side effects to drugs. Though the educational and clinical issues in geriatrics in India are similar to those in developed nations, the large population and the lack of funds make it much more challenging.

The objective of geriatric care is not to make all elderly persons die in ICUs but to achieve a minimum quality of dignified and healthy life for the elderly.

For an elderly person belonging to the lower strata of society, an illness can be a calamity. The government must take the initiative to set up senior citizen centres in both rural and urban areas for those who can no longer live alone .Innovative methods and research on approaches best suited for India are cardinal in providing adequate and cost-effective care for the aged. It only needs the will of the government.

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