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Sedentary lifestyles affecting health of India's elderly (April 7 is World Health Day)

Delhi,Health/Medicine, Fri, 06 Apr 2012 IANS

New Delhi, April 6 (IANS) As WHO focusses on healthy ageing as its theme for the World Health Day Saturday, experts say sedentary lifestyles and growing psycho-social factors are affecting the health of India's elderly.


The World Health Organisation says nearly eight percent of the Southeast Asian population, including India's, is above the age of 60.


"Anxiety, social security, loneliness are some problems increasingly affecting the elderly. Other than this, in India's respect, it is the non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart diseases that surround old age," J.S. Thakur, national professional officer, non-communicable diseases and social determinants of health, at the WHO-India country office, told IANS.


India's health ministry's national programme for healthcare for the elderly (NPHCE) plans to set up eight geriatric care centres across the country.


Geriatric units will also be opened at 100 district hospitals in 21 states, and units will also be created at community and primary health centres. Development of manpower for this is among the highlights of the plan.


"Major focus will be on dedicated healthcare for elderly. Integrating psycho-social problems with non-communicable diseases of the older people will help in giving focussed care services," Thakur added.


But the NPHCE is yet to take complete shape. In the absence of accurate data and surveillance by the states, NPHCE has a long way to go, health ministry officials say.


"As of now, what concerns us is the relevant data and reaching out to the elderly for NPHCE. The policy will only help if we know who exactly needs it," a senior health ministry official said on condition of anonymity.


Increasing life expectancy has added to the concerns surrounding the older population in Southeast Asia. As per WHO, countries falling in the region are India, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, among others.


WHO says it will draw global attention to ageing to highlight it as a rapidly emerging priority that most countries in the region have yet to address adequately.


"Effective programmes to promote healthy ageing will have to take these factors into account and develop interventions that have an impact upon the key stages of life," Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO regional director for South-East Asia, told IANS.


"Projects to promote and maintain the independence in routine activities of life and encouraging elderly professionals to continue with their professional careers have to be introduced in large numbers," Plianbangchang said.


The regional director highlighted the policies for the elderly in Sri Lanka and Thailand that have been doing well in the region.


"Sri Lanka has established the National Charter for Senior Citizens and National Policy for Senior Citizens. Some key interventions are the Elders Maintenance Board, Care Givers programme and Elders Identity Card," Plianbangchang said.


Using the identity card, an elderly person in Sri Lanka can receive priority services from an array of government facilities including government hospitals and transportation.


Similarly, Thailand's national policy on active healthy ageing was developed based on three determinants - participation, health and security. The 'Thai Older Persons Act' covers areas such as healthy services, social security, basic hygiene and sanitation facilities, social benefits like exemption from tickets at public places, monthly allowances and protection from abuse.


While national policies to promote healthy ageing exist in the region, there is an urgent need to focus on issues such as economic effects of ageing on the healthcare system, ways of ensuring independence in old age, quality of life and health problems of elderly females and very old persons, WHO says.


"Longer life is associated with chronic diseases and disabilities in old age. With nuclear families replacing joint families and with large rural-to-urban migrations, the care of the elderly person is being compromised," Plianbangchang said.


"Such changing patterns of society are also affecting the age-old balance of care of the old and very old at the family and community levels," the top WHO official concluded.


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