How do you fill your day when the work that kept you busy is gone? It’s a question that haunts most seniors as they near retirement age.
In a busy metropolis like Mumbai, the answer is being framed in the form of recreational clubs.
“In cities like ours, most seniors go through phases of being alone and being or feeling neglected by society. Many have children living abroad or far away. With seniors making up 8% to 10% of the city’s population, it is extremely important to have recreational centres and programmes to help them find companionship and support in their later years,” said Shelu Sreenivasan, president and founder of NGO Dignity Foundation.
Where once there were only laughter, yoga, and a handful of nana-nani parks, Mumbai now has a growing number of recreational clubs set up by NGOs like Dignity and HelpAge and, more recently, by hospitals too.
On offer at these clubs are game nights, excursions, dancing and singing sessions, workshops and counselling sessions on physical and mental health.
HelpAge also organises heritage trips and festive celebrations where the seniors can interact with younger generations.
“Our mission is to not only offer seniors a healthy environment but also help bridge the gap bet-ween generations,” said HelpAge India director Prakash Borgaonkar.
A key advantage of recreational clubs for seniors is the social interaction, with members making friends, finding support in times of happiness and trouble, and even celebrating important events together, said
Samir Parikh, psychiatrist and director mental healthcare at Fortis hospital.
“These clubs are important as they can help seniors strike a balance between indoor and outdoor life,” Parikh adds. “The activities also help them feeling like an active and participatory part of society.”
For retired clerk Chaya Bhiwandkar, 68, for instance, joining Dignity’s Chai Masti Centre in Grant Road helped her make new friends and get out of the house more.
“I never thought I would make new friends at this age, but the club has made me much more active, and I feel more positive too,” she says.
Chaya, a widow, even found love, in the form of fellow member and widower Bipin, 69, a retired businessman. The two married at 60.
“I had been alone for 12 years before I met Bipin at [Dignity’s] Chai Masti centre in Grant Road,” says Chaya. “I now have someone who supports me, someone to enjoy memorable trips with. We have already been to Malaysia, Singapore and Dubai together.”
The problem is, there aren’t enough of these centres. Amid growing demand, hospitals are now stepping in to fill the gap — and woo this growing demographic.
While Nanavati hospital launched its Live 360@60 Club in July, Fortis Healthcare set up its Neighborhood Club last year. Fortis offers motivational talks and interactive sessions on healthcare; Nanavati also offers singing and dancing sessions and game nights.
The Asian Heart Institute, meanwhile, helps seniors register for the Mumbai marathon, with the aim of encouraging silvers to participate, stay active, and keep their hearts healthy.
“I’m glad hospitals have taken the initiative to organise social gatherings for seniors,” says Chandrakant Doshi, 79, one of the 55 members of the Live360@60 club.
“Initiatives like this motivate us because many of us have similar problems. We discussed our troubles, discussed solutions among ourselves and also had fun.”
The fact is that the government is absent in this space, says Sreenivasan of Dignity.
“And it’s not just the government but the society as a whole that is insensitive towards seniors. Their issues take a backseat to others’, so running programmes for them becomes a challenge too, with a lack of even basic infrastructure such as community centres.”