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DNA India
04 August 2010
By Deepa Suryanarayan
Mumbai, India

Bhandup–resident Seethalakshmy Ganapathy lives on her pension and the monthly interest accrued on some fixed deposit.

While she manages her diabetes and hypertension with medicines, severe arthritis on both knees has reduced her mobility drastically. What she desperately needs is a doctor experienced with treating the elderly, visiting her at home regularly. However, that is easier said than done.

“At 85, even a fever and body ache could turn serious. But getting a specialist on a home visit is not just expensive, but also impossible. There are no doctors specialising in treatment for the elderly,” said Vanashree, the octogenarian’s daughter. “We somehow support her and take her to a nearby clinic. She needed hospitalisation twice in the past four years.”

Dr Shekhar Bhonsale, general practitioner, who at 66 is a senior citizen himself, said: “Most of my elderly patients have complaints such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, etc, all of which are chronic ailments that need long–term treatment and follow–ups.”

Awareness about geriatric care has come only in the past five years. “For a country with over 80 million people above the age of 60, this is a sad but true fact. There are no courses offered by medical colleges on gerontology. Specialisation in geriatrics is in the nascent stage,” said John Thattil, who worked with the elderly at Helpage India for over eight years and is now the national director of Habitat for Humanity.

While arthritis can be diagnosed and treated by orthopaedic specialists, problems related to dementia leading to Alzheimer’s are becoming very rampant. Early diagnosis would slow down the onset and progress of the disease, but it is not happening as of now, Thattil added.

Geriatric wards in the city’s hospitals, said social activists, are non–existent. In Mumbai, KEM is the only hospital which runs an out patient department for the elderly with the help of five assistants from the medicine department, besides a social worker, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, psychiatrist, orthopedic and gynaecology department members.

Another problem that is seldom addressed is depression and loneliness. “The empty nest syndrome tends to make things worse. Without their children and grandchildren at home, they tend to feel more depressed,” said psychiatrist Dr Arjun Pandit.

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