Barely a day goes by nowadays when there isn’t a reference to India’s young demographic in one context or the other. But while the country plays host to one of the youngest populations in the world, approximately 6.6 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion strong citizenry comprises those over the age of 65. That is a pretty significant number. While there is a focus, and rightly so, on a national youth policy that looks at all-round development of youngsters, we have not as yet ~ despite our cultural traditions which place a premium on looking after the aged ~ been successful in putting a comprehensive action plan in place to administer to the needs of the elderly.

The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and its particularly lethal impact on the elderly has brought out in sharp relief the vulnerabilities of India’s older population. There is no better time, then, to turn the spotlight on what needs to be done to ensure that the future for all citizens and not just those who happen to be 20 today (but will turn 65 one day too) is worth looking forward to. Old age brings with it certain vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. Medical, health, and wellness infrastructure ought to be a key priority for planners given the size of our aging population. India is only at the beginning of the curve which has topped out in the developed world as increasing prosperity ensures people live much longer. As the population’s median age goes up, so will the need to allocate resources in proportion.

This would include not only increasing access to medical services for the elderly like specialised geriatric care units in hospitals and rehabilitative care in hospices but also emotional-psychological support where required. Loneliness, quite apart from the ailments which come with old age, can be a killer too. Mobility for the aged so they have some independent ability to get around is another imperative. Our public transport system infrastructure is woefully short of even the basics ~ ramps, shallow steps, easy-to-grab handrails, emergency medical kits, priority queues et.al. On the flip side, as our elderly population stays healthier longer thanks to the advances in medical science and better standards of living, they need to feel a productive part of society.

Many have skills and expertise that can be used whether in the voluntary sector or even for mentoring in the professional world. The Indian armed forces, for example, have a post-retirement counselling system which has helped many older people occupy themselves gainfully even as they add value to organisations they are associated with. It is time we started walking the talk when we assert that old is gold.