Rapid ageing challenges Kerala

Kerala finds itself facing a huge human development challenge in the form of its elderly population, burgeoning faster than in any other state.

At one time, this population was a showcase for Kerala's health facilities and living conditions. Now, more and more elderly people are being abandoned or tortured by heir families.

On Saturday, for instance, Kunjamma, 85, was rescued from a locked house at Adimali in Idukki district. A neighbour had heard feeble whimpers, and police broke in. A mother of four, Kunjamma told the police she was not being given food and that her son, who had locked her in, used to torture her. Police shifted her to a home as none of her sons was willing to look after her.

Many other elderly people have been abandoned in their houses across the state, uncared for, their presence sometimes undetected till their death. There have also been instances of the elderly being dumped in public places and of going to court against their children (see list).

Trends

A growing elderly population is a global phenomenon but Kerala's demographic transition — from a state with high mortality and high fertility to one with a low count in both of these — outpaces that of the rest of the country by 25 years, according to the Kerala Development Report published by the Planning Commission in 2008. Its findings highlight the contrast, which is starkest in the index of ageing, nearly twice as much in Kerala as in the rest of the country.

Kerala's 60-plus population, 5.1 per cent of the total in 1961, was just below the national 5.6 per cent. Since 1980, Kerala has overtaken the rest and the 2001 comparison is 10.5 per cent to 7.5. At the other end of the spectrum, the proportion of the young has declined faster than elsewhere.

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