Persons above sixty years of age are classified as aged persons. The process of ageing is considered to start when a person has "completed the traditional adult roles of making a living and child rearing and enters the years following the completion of these tasks that represent an extension of life" (Tibbitts). There are further classifications of "young-old" for persons who may have just turned 60 and old-old for those in the age-group of those aged 75 years and beyond (Hutchinson).
At the biological level, ageing results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time. This leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, a growing risk of disease, and ultimately, death. But these changes are neither linear nor consistent, and they are only loosely associated with a person’s age in years. While some 70 year-olds enjoy extremely good health and functioning, other 70 year-olds are frail and require significant help from others.
Beyond biological changes, ageing is also associated with other life transitions such as retirement, relocation to more appropriate housing, and the death of friends and partners. In developing a public-health response to ageing, it is important not just to consider approaches that ameliorate the losses associated with older age, but also those that may reinforce recovery, adaptation and psychosocial growth.
Common conditions in older age include hearing loss, cataracts and refractive errors, back and neck pain and osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression, and dementia. Furthermore, as people age, they are more likely to experience several conditions at the same time.
Older age is also characterized by the emergence of several complex health states that tend to occur only later in life and that do not fall into discrete disease categories. These are commonly called geriatric syndromes. They are often the consequence of multiple underlying factors and include frailty, urinary incontinence, falls, delirium and pressure ulcers.
“Healthy ageing” is defined by the World report on ageing and health as the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age.
In 1991, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, enumerating 18 entitlements for older persons — relating to independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment and dignity. The UN encouraged governments to incorporate these principles into their national programmes whenever possible.
There has been a steady rise in the population of older persons in India. The number of elder persons ( 60+ population) has increased from 76 millions in 2001 to 103.8 millions in 2011, i.e. 8.6% of India’s population. Growing at around 3% annually, the number of elderly age population will rise to 319 million in 2050.
General improvement in the health care facilities over the years is one of the main reasons for continuing increase in proportion of population of senior citizens. Ensuring that they not merely live longer, but lead a secure, dignified and productive life is a major challenge.
The traditional norms and values of the Indian society laid stress on showing respect and providing care for the aged. However, in recent times, society is witnessing a gradual but definite withering of the joint family system, as a result of which a large number of parents are being neglected by their families exposing to lack of emotional, physical and financial support. These older persons are facing a lot of problems in the absence of adequate social security. This clearly reveals that ageing has become a major social challenge and there is a need to provide for the economic and health needs of the elderly and to create a social milieu, which is conducive and sensitive to emotional needs of the elderly.
Main features of elderly population in India
The profile of the elderly population indicates that: