Mumbai has only one dedicated day-care centre for seniors with dementia. And only a handful of senior day-care centres in all.
A draft BMC policy in 2013 envisioned one day-care centre for seniors in every municipal ward in Mumbai — which would mean a total of 227 across the city and suburbs. But there has been no move yet to implement this policy.
In a city of nuclear families and endless work hours, this gaping hole in the healthcare system has an immense impact.
Take Vijaya Patil, 80, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s eight years ago. She can no longer care for herself and lives with her daughter, son-in-law and grandson.
When the Menons shifted from Bandra to Santacruz this March, their primary consideration was not the building’s amenities or even the closest schools. They needed a house that would be on the route of the pick-up van from Patil’s day-care centre in Dadar.
That’s the one centre for seniors with dementia. It is run by the NGO Dignity Foundation and can accommodate only 20 patients at a time, five days a week.
Here, seniors are engaged in activities that cater to the varying degrees of the condition. These include physiotherapy, exercise, therapies with music and writing, brain puzzles and pet therapy.
“We also have them sort grains with their left hands, so as to activate the right brain, or we blindfold them for certain tasks so that other senses are alerted,” says Jogeshwari Savant, coordinator of the centre.
Menon says the centre has been a lifeline for her mother and for her. A former journalist, Menon quit her job after her mother was diagnosed and is now a freelance writer.
“Someone has to watch my mother all the time. Every day, we notice things that she can no longer do,” Menon says. “Until last year, she could dress herself. Now, she can’t drape a sari, and she barely speaks. There are mishaps even when we leave her for a day or two with relatives. But at the centre, I know she is safe, and it gives me a few hours of respite and allows me to work.”
It is precisely to alleviate such stress — and to ensure that quality care and recreation are available to seniors — that a draft government policy envisioned a day care centre in every ward.
“Mumbai has about 12 lakh seniors, and Maharashtra has about 1.3 crore,” says Sharad Dicholkar, secretary of the Federation of Senior Citizens of Maharashtra. “So many of them are not being cared for, either because they live alone or have working children and children-in-law. Even so, the BMC policy has not been implemented. It’s very important to have day care centres for their security and mental well-being.”
Worli resident Sulochana Shinde, 73, would agree. She has been going to a local day-care facility for 20 years, run by the NGO Family Welfare Agency. Built in the 1950s, this is the oldest senior day-care centre in the city.
“I live with two sons and daughters-in-law, but they all go to work. Coming here is the highlight of my day — at this age, I have made new friends,” she says, showing off friendship bands from a recent Friendship Day celebration at the centre. “We also learn about health issues, and I feel a lot more aware and confident.”
Elsewhere, the Adhata Trust foundation for seniors launched by the Mahindra group’s Arun Nanda has been offering a different kind of day care at its six centres across the city, since 2012.
“We don’t call it day care, since families then feel there’s a stigma attached to sending their parents,” says Clara D’Souza, CEO of Adhata. “Instead, we think of them as ‘community centres’, where seniors come in for about three hours a day from Monday to Friday, and are involved in dance, physiotherapy, yoga, art therapy, computer lessons and so on. Every Friday, the centres also hold awareness sessions on topics such as healthy living, loneliness, Parkinson’s disease, organ donation and so on.”
The biggest challenges, say the centres, are finding trained social workers that can handle senior citizens sensitively — and finding space for their operations in a city of notoriously expensive real-estate.
As with the community centres, government involvement or assistance could go a long way in helping extend such facilities to more members of the growing senior community, says Sailesh Mishra, founder of the Silver Innings Foundation for senior citizens.