Frail and vulnerable, elderly continue to battle neglect

Helpline for senior citizens received over 27,000 calls in past one year

When Sasikala K., a former professor of English at a private institution, fractured her leg in February this year — her second such injury in four years — little did she expect that it would leave a permanent emotional scar.

“I returned home on a stretcher after treatment and my husband asked me to move out. He refused to give me money for medicine or other expenses. I understood recovery would not be possible unless I moved out,” recalls the 58-year-old, sitting among senior citizens at an elder care Centre run by RK’s Mother Teresa Foundation in Karkhana here.

Old, frail and dependent on others for their daily needs, senior citizens are a highly vulnerable group. Their vulnerability is not only restricted to health needs, but also includes being subjected to harassment, abuse, and abandonment — often at the hands of their own family members.

Bearing testimony to this fact is the number of calls received on ‘14567’, the national helpline number for senior citizens. In the past one year, as many as 27,103 calls have been attended on the number, says B. Shailaja, director of department of Welfare of Disabled and Senior Citizens. The helpline began as a pilot project in Telangana as an initiative of the government along with Tata Trusts in 2017, and is now operational in other States too. Calls are attended from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m. every day.

The department staff manage the distress calls and rescue those in need of help. Ms. Sasikala was one of them. After speaking to her husband, Field Response Officer N. Siddhartha shifted her to the elder care centre in April this year.

Project manager of the ‘elder line’ in the State, T. Rajesh says the government has been exclusively running the helpline since October 2020. Most callers seek help with medical support, information about hospitals, emotional support, to report abuse, harassment, and ways to avail government’s pension schemes.

Senior citizens wishing to reclaim their property when their children or other family members stop taking care of them, and those seeking information about old age homes or daycare activity centre for the aged also dialled the helpline number.

“Then there were some callers who wanted information on caregivers since their parents were in need of medical attention at home, or because they had to go to work, leaving an elderly family member behind,” says Amulya P., team leader the elder helpline centre located in Yousufguda.

But not everybody in distress is in a situation to call or is aware of the helpline. Many with mental illnesses silently suffer, often abandoned on the streets. However, there have been instances of passersby dialling 14567 to arrange help for such people, informs K. Ravi Kumar, administration lead at the helpline.

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