Gerontology is the study of the social, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging and its existence is quite often neglected. The second childhood (old age) requires care and nurture all over again. The old age people being the weaker section of the society is not given much attention nor is their basic needs and emotional requirements met, which in turn creates a distressing situation. In this backdrop, the Department of Social Work organized a panel discussion to instigate thoughts on the young minds of budding Social Work and Psychology students on the care and protection of elderly ones which is the need of the hour.
The Department of Social work organized a panel discussion on “Gerontology -A Multidisciplinary Approach” on September 28, 2015 which commenced at 10:35 a.m. Experts from various organizations were present to speak on the various aspects of ageing, elderly care and protection. Some of the professionals were Dr. Mohan Sunil Kumar (Director and Psychiatrist, COUCH- Centre for new beginning); Mr. Prem Kumar Raja (Director, Nightingale Medical Trust), Dr. Janet Parameshwara (Head, Department of Social Welfare, KIDWAI Memorial Institute of Oncology) Dr. K. Lalitha (Head, Department of Psychiatric Nursing, NIMHANS), Dr. Suri Raju V (Urologist, Regal Hospital) and Mr. Shaji Philip (CEO, Advantage of India.). The welcome address was given by Dr. A. Jonas Richard (Head, Department of Social Work, Kristu Jayanti College) followed by the inaugural address by Fr. Josekutty P.D (Principal, Kristu Jayanti College), who in his speech invoked a sense of responsibility for the elderly and encouraged students to be sensitive to the needs of the aged population. He also emphasized that each individual irrespective of age has the responsibility to work with others for the welfare of the aged for healthy and peaceful ageing.
Further the discussion was initiated by the moderator of the session Dr. Mohan Sunil Kumar who gave instructions on the agenda to be followed thereby handing over the session to the first speaker Dr. Janet Parameshwara who spoke on ‘Aging and Cancer’ . She mentioned that there were nearly 18,000 patients annually who suffered from cancer in their old age and they were mainly from the southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
She emphasized on the types of cancer that commonly occurred in the age group of 60 years and above, the goals of cancer treatments, health assessment checks and dilemmas commonly faced by patients and care takers regarding options of treatment, side effects of the treatments, emotional, physical and social effects of the medication on the patients, financial limitations of the families and spiritual beliefs including superstitions that influences medical treatment. She also spoke about the quality of life of a patient which is assessed by physical comfort, relationships, nutrition, and financial security. According to her, some of the tasks involved in care giving include administration of medication, monitoring signs and symptoms of distress, buying meals and groceries, and managing finances. She also highlighted that the caregiver encounters more emotional distress and financial hardship. The speaker suggested that care givers could hire helpers and use networking to share experiences and gain sufficient knowledge on elder care and treatment.
Dr. Lalitha enlightened the audience on the difference between Geriatrics and Gerontology. She mainly focused on the physical problems faced by the elderly such as posture differences, issues with their central nervous system, respiratory system, digestive system, immune system, endocrine system, musculoskeletal system and the excretory system. She also elaborated on the illnesses that could develop and deteriorate the functioning of these systems. She highlighted some of the physical problems of the elderly that includes stroke, cataract, insomnia, hearing problem, arthritis, immobility, gingivitis, blood pressure, ulcer, varicose vein, loosening of bladder muscles, urinary infections, constipation and stomach ailments. The speaker advised the students to be caring, to have commitment, empathy, dedication and benevolence and to preserve cultural heritage with respect to the elderly.
Mr. Prem Kumar Raja concentrated on the challenges and concerns regarding provision of healthcare services to the elderly. He also mentioned that there are 10 crore senior citizens out of the whole Indian population. He also gave an introduction on the Nightingale Medical trust that works for the welfare of elderly patients suffering from Dementia and Alzheimers. According to him, the joint family tradition was helpful in taking care of the elderly but with the onset of urbanization nuclear families were formed due to which the elders have been neglected. According to Mr Raja, the two main challenges and concerns faced in the setting are inadequate social support systems and inefficient government policies. Nightingale Medical trust aims to enhance the quality of life of the elderly with dementia through increasing access to technology, through strengthening the family based support systems, creating job opportunities for the elderly, spreading awareness on gerontological issues and advocacy for vulnerable groups. He also said that he trust provides recreational activities for better health and physical fitness. The speaker also shared information on the primary issues faced by the elderly like emotional ill-treatment and abandonment by their own children. Hel also said that the trust has a toll free number to call and report abuse or violence against the elderly that is available where approximately 30 calls per day has been received and resolved.
Dr. Suri Raju enlightened the audience on the physical illnesses faced by the elderly related to the excretory system. Around 70% of the patients that consulted him are above 60 years of age and the life expectancy is not beyond 65 years. He also pointed out many rural areas in India do not have primary health care centers or clinics for emergencies and if they have, there is no accessibility to provision of healthcare services. He also mentioned that more men experience enlargement of the prostate gland and women have issues pertaining to the uterus and many elderly people suffer from cancer where the need to provide rehabilitation and care was emphasized.
Mr. Shaji Philip focused on how the elderly population is ignored and their plights with regard to accessing the healthcare services were clearly narrated by him. He also focused on the scarcity of medical and paramedical professionals to work for the elderly in India.
The discussion came to an end when Dr. Mohan Sunil Kumar shared his views on the problems of grey population and the emotional burdens of the caregivers. According to him, some of the issues faced during old age are verbal abuse, loneliness, chronic anxiety, Dementia, and Alzheimer. He also gave tips for aging gracefully that includes regular exercise, adequate sleep, pursuing education or a hobby, having a balanced diet, eradicating negative emotions, doing things that improve cognitive enrichment. He also brought to notice how Benzodiazepines -one of the very common medication taken during old age are overused which leads to other health complications.
The discussion recognized its purpose with the various questions being raised by the participants. The questions raised floated around issues of caring for the elderly, handling conflicting situations while working with aged people, budget allocation for the elderly treatment and care by the government, government policies and programs for the elderly and the infirm, need for separate geriatric social work specialization, impact of globalization on the elderly care and services and the type of psycho-social support to be given to them in the process ageing.
The various issues and challenges faced by the caregivers of the elderly and the medical professionals were discussed. The speakers covered problems pertaining to the old age and some of the remedial measures that should be adopted. The session was winded up at 1:00 p.m. followed by which Prof. Shymol Mathew of the Dept. of Social Work offered the Vote of Thanks.
The panel discussion on Gerontology was very informative and it also provided ample opportunities for discussing various issues with regard to the aged community. The various physical and mental illnesses were explained to the audience in simple and understandable manner by the speakers. The panel discussion provided a stage to share the experience of experts in caring for the elderly and the queries raised by the participants were answered. The intensity of the problems faced by the elderly was realized when the speakers threw statistics on the same. The session also developed insights on the field gerontology and brought out the challenges that could be encountered by the professionals and the caregivers of the elderly. The question and answer session proved that the panel discussion served its purpose where a ‘give and take’ process of knowledge happened between the resource persons and the audience.