No country for the old and the infirm

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Bengaluru: The city on Wednesday has witnessed yet another horrific and shocking incident where a 90-year-old elderly man, Anantharam Shetty, was allegedly locked inside a room for six months by his own children. This case clearly goes to show that geriatric care in our city and the country at large has been neglected.
The Western countries have a system in place where geriatric care is given a lot of importance; but in India, the system is yet to evolve and a majority of citizens are not even aware of the options available to the elderly.
There are two main facets to geriatric care, says Dr Anoop Amarnath, director and consultant, geriatric medicine, Apollo Hospitals. “Cases of elderly abuse are under-reported in our country. Be it physical abuse or an accidental overdose of medicine, most cases simply go unreported. Secondly, given the busy lifestyle of the children, they are not able to provide proper care to their elderly parents at a time when they require their attention the most.”
We need to imbibe the practice of the United Kingdom (UK) in terms of geriatric care, feels Dr Anoop, who has worked abroad for couple of years. He says, “In the UK, the government has a system where they have appointed district nurses who work in the community. These nurses go to each and every house and get the medical background of the elderly at home, and ultimately compile a sort of database for future reference.”
Elderly abuse in most of Western countries is a reportable offense. In India, however, we do not even have a nodal authority where instances of elderly abuse can be reported. In cases of mental instability, the patients are seen as a social stigma and are often considered an embarrassment to the family. 
More often than not, the patient’s family fears coming out in public and speaking about the case, and is unwilling to take them to designated specialists for treatment.  The World Health Organisation estimates that in low and middle-income countries, only one out of five people with mental health, neurological or substance-related problems has access to appropriate services.
In addition, our country lacks trained and qualified medical professionals in the field of geriatric care. Dr Anoop drove home his point by saying that Bengaluru has just two proper qualified geriatric specialists.
Don’t abandon them, break apart medical taboos
Dr B.N. Gangadhar
The two incidents of house arrest which have come to light lately should be an eye-opener for everyone in the city. While Hemavathi’s and Anantharam’s situations may have arisen out of the ignorance or  rigidity of their families which unfortunately put them in added jeopardy, there are some instances of  families locking up their elderly parents inside the house  for safety as they believe they could be robbed or suffer in other ways otherwise.
The only answer is to create more awareness about these issues as cases of mental illness are even today considered a taboo  by and large by the uneducated in society. Families simply confine such people as they fear to talk about them with outsiders. But this way, they tend to deprive the person of the necessary medical intervention which is required at the right time.
Rather than helping to cure them of their ailment, they only push the patients over the brink with such treatment and their health deteriorates further. More than a medical issue this is a social problem that needs to be addressed. While the situation and medical intervention differs from case to case, educating the people to help them speak out without hesitation and seek help in such circumstance before it gets too late for medical intervention, is what we need today.
(The writer is Professor of Psychiatry, NIMHANS. Bengaluru.)
Tale of another rescue
Hemavathi’s and Ananthram’s rescue acts come after 37-year-old T. Keshava was dramatically rescued in mid-October from a nearly 10-year-long solitary confinement in his village home in the Davangere district. Based on a tip-off, Bengaluru’s former-regional commissioner K. Shivram rushed to Lakkimpura village, about 250 km from the city, and rescued Keshava from the hellhole he was in.
The man had been walled alive into a room with no doors or proper ventilation, save for a barred window measuring about 3 sqft through which he was passed his meals. That confined living space was where Keshava breathed, ate, slept, urinated and defecated.
He had reportedly been put inside the room when he turned violent while studying his second year B.Com at a local college. Ten years later, he was saved from the shadows and taken to Nimhans in Bengaluru for treatment, where doctors diagnosed Keshava with schizophrenia. He is currently being rehabilitated at a mental care facility in Davangere, and does not wish to return to his parents’ house in Lakkimpura
Let go ‘let live’ attitude, watch your neighbours
The city received another rude shock this week when it was discovered that a 35- year- old woman,  Hemavathi was confined to a space not more than 80 sq. Ft  for four years in the four walls of her home by her own family. The fact that they got away with it in a busy residential locality like Malleswaram in the heart of the city without raising the suspicion of neighbours,  clearly points to a flaw in the way we live today.
Could it be that  people are so self-involved that they don't care about what goes on in their own neighbourhoods anymore? Are the  growing number of thefts, robberies and murders of home alone women also an indication of such indifference? Or is it just that  people value their privacy so much that they prefer to keep neighbours at arms length?
Ask clinical psychologist, Dr Supriya Shanker and she says its  a little idealistic to expect everyone in a neighbourhood to be cooperative and willing to keep a constant vigil over what goes on in the locality.  “Our society seems to have adopted a “‘live and let live’ kind of attitude over the past few years. But in Hemavathi’s case, the neighbours could have tried talking to her parents first and educating them, or even calling a human rights organisation immediately instead of waiting for something dramatic to happen before alerting the police,” she says.
Additional Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Kamal Panth, however, places a great deal of emphasis on alert locals helping prevent crime in their areas. “If cases of child labour and molestation are spotted and reported, more immediate action can  be taken. We definitely encourage individual initiatives like neighbourhood watches as they help in strengthening the system,” he says.

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