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Lessons from Japan on caring for the Capital’s elderly

Asian country with 25% of population above 60 years encourages students to engage with them

delhi Updated: Oct 15, 2016 23:19 IST
Faizan Haidar
Faizan Haidar
Hindustan Times
Senior citizens,safety,abuse of elderly
In a housing complex in Fukuoka, elderly housewives have started a cafe that has become a hit with the residents. The women use their old coffee machines.(HT Photo)

Non-government organisations (NGOs) say their helplines are getting more than usual calls from senior citizens who are afraid of meeting the same fate as an elderly couple in Kalkaji.

On Monday, Govind Ram Jethani, 90, was found living with his wife’s body in his house for four days. Four months ago, a video clip of a daughter assaulting her octogenarian mother in East of Kailash went viral on social media.

As Delhi is turning less suitable for elders, it can learn from Fukuoka in Japan, which faces the problem of an ageing society. In 1950, only 4.9% of the total Japanese population was above 65 years. It increased to 26.7% in 2015 and is expected to reach 38.8% in 2050.

Read more: Delhi: CCTV footage leads cops to senior citizen’s killer

The administration was getting complaints of loneliness from the elderly. In many parts, their bodies were discovered days after their death.

The Fukuoka administration has tied up with universities and is encouraging students to live in housing complexes instead of hostels. “They are expected to lead community revitalisation activities at the ageing housing complex,” said Naotoshi Nakamura of Urban Renaissance Agency (UR) who has collaborated with Fukuoka University to ensure the elderly don’t feel lonely. The students are asked to invite the elderly for festivals and talk to them regularly.

This model can be replicated in India, said Age Well Foundation founder chairperson Himanshu Rath. “After the number of calls increased on our helpline, we advised senior citizens to engage with neighbours. Our volunteers tell them the same thing. They must write letters and speak to relatives on a regular basis. We even advise the youth of the area to speak to the elderly every day,” he said.

Of the 16 lakh elderly people in Delhi, 65% don’t have enough money. “As most of the elderly in Delhi and India are poor, it is difficult to engage them in these kind of activities (that require money). We need to teach the younger generation about the problems they can face when they grow old,” Rath added.

In Fukuoka’s Hoshinohara-Danchi housing complex, five elderly housewives have started a café that has become a hit among the locals. “They use their old coffee machines and other equipment to make coffee. The common eating area is a good concept to keep the elderly engaged. The café has become a communication platform,” said Tsuyoto Murakami, marketing professor, Fukuoka University.

The Fukuoka authorities are trying to revitalise suburbs and youngsters are moving from cities to suburbs. Abandoned houses are being renovated and old people have been asked to look after them. Some of them have even converted their house into a small hotel.

“Japan started thinking about its elders a long ago. If we start now, we will be able to do something for the next generation of elders,” said Rath.


Senior citizens constitute over 10% of Delhi’s 1.86 crore population, yet there are only two government-run old age homes. NGOs and trusts run 48 old-age homes in Delhi-NCR, where the average minimum cost incurred by a senior citizen is about R 4,000 per month.

Dr Samir Parikh, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, who surveyed 500 people over the age of 60, said 34% of the respondents admitted to feeling lonely, 26% felt the need for help to cope with their daily life and a good 25% had no idea who would take care of them if they fell ill.

Most elders in cities suffer ‘urban loneliness ’, found a survey by a city hospital a few years ago.

The latest report by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) termed Delhi the most unsafe city for senior citizens with a rate of 89 crimes per one lakh elderly population.

It said senior citizens in the national capital are almost five times more likely to become victims of a crime than in the rest of the country. In July, four elderly men and women were murdered across the city in a fortnight.

In 2015, HelpAge India surveyed working adults aged 25-45 years across 10 cities living with at least one elderly parent. About 73% of the respondents admitted that abuse of the elderly is prevalent. 42% felt it was a problem of all developing societies, including India. 83% said identifying elderly abuse in the neighbourhood is not difficult.

Delhi alone beats the national average in the category of ‘Using Abusive Language and talking rudely to an elder’ with a whopping 77% youths saying it was the most common form of abuse they have seen.

*The reporter participated in The 11th Asian City Journalist Conference in Fukuoka, Japan

First Published: Oct 15, 2016 23:19 IST