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India: Elderly may be better than the young at spreading health messages

Cultural respect for the elderly allows them to increase awareness more easily than younger people, according to Dr Alakananda Banerjee (second from left), head of the Dharma Foundation in New Delhi.Development work in India is about more than the extreme poverty portrayed in the west according to a leading campaigner in the care for the elderly sector.

Dr Alakananda Banerjee, head of the Dharma Foundation in New Delhi said there is much work to be done in the less obvious areas of healthcare.

“India is not what is displayed outside, what western people want to see. India is not just about elephants and cows on the road,” Dr Banerjee said at the First International Conference for Age-Friendly Cities in Dublin.

The doctor, head of the Department of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation with Max Hospitals, said healthcare training for the elderly can have huge benefits for the rest of the community.

“If I have a grandparent who knows about diabetes, then she will tell everyone in the family. We will see the effects of this programme in a few years,” she said.

Information day at Dharma Foundation clinic New Delhi.The foundation’s Active Ageing health programme works with 650 elderly “lower middle-class” people in three areas of the city. Like the Ageing Well Network in Ireland, the foundation partners with various NGOs to make direct connections in the communities.

Based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) framework policy on ageing, Dr Banerjee said the existing cultural respect for the elderly allows them to increase awareness more easily than younger people.

“We are working with a population of literate people. We feel if the old can be guided to build up leadership … then we can affect other people. Active ageing is in the initial stages in India, but things are changing. It’s pretty exciting.”

One of the charity’s aims is to encourage older people to seek treatment for small injuries or age-related problems. Community activities like bridge allow people to talk about illness in a non-clinical manner according to Dr Banerjee.

“So you might meet someone who has hearing issues,” she said. “They don’t mind being deaf but we can help them recognise the fact that if their hearing is better, life is better.”

The WHO estimates India’s population of over-60s will be 168.5 million by 2025, more than double the last WHO count of 81 million in 2002. The number of older people in Asia will continue to increase at a faster rate than in Europe according to the world body.

The First Internationthisal Conference on Age-Friendly Cities brought representatives from 40 countries together at the end of September to discuss ways of creating better living environments for rapidly ageing populations.

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