Unsung heroes: A doctor and a social entrepreneur tried to make life easier for the elderly in Bangalore

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One fallout of Bangalore’s transformation from retirement haven to India’s bustling IT capital over the past three decades has been the crowding out of the city’s senior citizens from public spaces.

Congested public transport systems, heavy traffic on broken roads and sidewalks coupled with shifts towards nuclear family structures, rapid changes in technology and longer lifespans have left the elderly citizens of Bangalore in deep trouble in a general meaning.

One of the few saving graces for the city’s elderly – who make up nearly 10% of the population of more than nine million – has been the nearly three-decade-long effort of a doctor and a social entrepreneur to anticipate the needs of “growing numbers of people”. isolated elderly people in Bangalore and build facilities for their welfare.
Beginning as a simple effort to provide home medical assistance to the elderly in North Bengaluru in 1996 – with a garage as an office – Dr Radha Murthy, an alumnus of St John’s Medical College, Bengaluru, and S Premkumar Raja, a MPhil degree holder from Annamalai University, have built one of the pillars of aged care in Bengaluru.

The Nightingales Medical Trust, which was co-founded by Dr Radha Murthy and Premkumar Raja in 1998 based on their experience of providing home medical assistance for the elderly in 1996 from the garage of Dr Murthy’s home in Sadashivanagar, has over the years addressed issues such as elder abuse, care of the elderly homeless, as well as disease.

An elder helpline (1090) launched by the Nightingales in association with Bengaluru Police two decades ago – to tackle the problem of elder abuse for the first time in the country – remains a mainstay to help elders in Bengaluru to deal with domestic violence. than problems such as obtaining deferred pensions.

The Nightingales also run two homes for destitute elderly men and women from the weaker strata of society – Sandhya Kirana and Sandhya Suraksha – in association with the Bengaluru City Council and several enrichment centers for the elderly around Bengaluru to engage older people who are healthy but often home alone in creative and professional pursuits.

With the increasing incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease due to longer lifespans, the Nightingales Medical Trust has ventured in recent years to create one of the largest institutions residential care in India for the elderly affected by age-related diseases.

The trust is now training paramedics in elder care and earlier this year it was chosen to set up an elder helpline (14567) for all of Karnataka by the state and governments of the Union.

“Before we started Nightingales, we worked in a hospital in Sadashivnagar. At that time, we saw a real need to bring medical care to seniors’ doorsteps. We noticed how difficult it was for elderly patients to get medical help due to health and mobility issues. Hospital visits by older people with chronic conditions taxed patients and their carers alike,” said Raja, co-founder of Nightingales Medical Trust.

“In response to this need, we launched Nightingales Home Health Services in January 1996, with the sole purpose of serving seniors who required routine or emergency medical care directly in their homes. It made us the pioneers of home health care in the country,” he said.

The Nightingales Home Health Services initially included Dr. Radha Murthy as a physician, a few nursing staff, and Premkumar Raja as an administrator. During the course of providing care to the elderly at home, Dr. Murthy and Raja realized that many of the “emotional, social and economic needs” of the elderly were also not being taken into account.

“After visiting many nursing homes, we felt that nursing homes could not be the only solution to these problems and felt there was a need for a whole community approach. To examine these aspects, we formed the Nightingales Medical Trust (NMT) in 1998, a non-profit organization to work for the welfare of older people and people with dementia and Alzheimer’s from all socio-economic groups. economic,” said Premkumar Raja. .

One of the first services for the elderly set up by Dr Murthy and Premkumar Raja, under the aegis of the Nightingales Medical Trust, was an enrichment center for the elderly in Malleshwaram in 1999.

The center provided seniors with a forum for social interaction and enrichment with access to a library, medical care, health counseling, and advice on diet and financial planning.

“The purpose of this center was to address the loneliness of older people by addressing their social and emotional needs,” said Dr Radha Murthy.

While interacting with seniors at the enrichment center and while providing in-home medical care, the Nightingales co-founders realized that many seniors from middle-class homes were abused in the home by members of their families and caregivers. This sparked the idea of ​​establishing a helpline in Bangalore for the elderly.
“We encountered many unresolved issues, such as elder abuse, which involves physical, emotional and psychological abuse and requires direct interventions that informal counseling could not address. Some elders raised legal concerns for which they were reluctant to go to court as it was unaffordable…” said Dr Radha Murthy.

“We approached the bangalore The municipal police are launching a helpline for the elderly. At that time, the women’s helpline and the children’s helpline were already established as community interventions by the police department,” she said.

Bengaluru Police invited the Nightingales Medical Trust to establish the Bengaluru Elderly Helpline and “for the first time in the country, a police department and an NGO have teamed up to tackle child abuse.” elderly” on the 1090 helpline in April 2002.

“Initially, calls were few because older people were reluctant to come forward and complain. Over time, the Elder Helpline slowly gained recognition. So far, Elders Helpline 1090 has handled 2,35,541 calls/contacts. No less than 10,591 complaints of a serious nature were registered and 69% of complaints were successfully resolved,” Premkumar Raja said.

During the experience of running the Elderly Enrichment Center in Malleswaram and the Helpline, Dr. Murthy and Raja realized that even though they were addressing issues regarding the elderly in the class average in Bengaluru, there was still a major gap in addressing the problems of the elderly from the weaker economic strata of the society.

“We wanted to set up a similar center (like the enrichment center) for marginalized seniors. We approached the BBMP with this proposal and we secured a space to set up a Sandhya Kirana day care center for the elderly in Shantinagar. Services were tailored to the needs of older people from low-income groups and the focus was on providing nutritional support, medical intervention and income-generating activities,” Raja said.

In 2018 and 2020, the Nightingales Medical Trust also set up two residential facilities for the care of poor and destitute elderly men and women in Bangalore.

“The intention was to liberate Bengaluru from homeless elderly beggars. With this intention, Sandhya Suraksha, a home for destitute elderly women, was established in November 2018, with elderly women being considered the most vulnerable. In 2020, a shelter for destitute elderly men was established at the premises of Sandhya Kirana,” Raja said. The two residential facilities now house about 105 destitute elderly people, he added.

The growing association with the problems affecting the elderly in Bengaluru brought Dr. Murthy and Raja close to the increasing incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly with advancing age and of longevity, as well as the difficulties that families encountered in understanding and caring for the elderly affected by aging disorders.

“As longevity increased, so did the accompanying medical complications. It was then that we realized that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were a growing concern,” Raja said. “Currently, there are 6.1 million people with dementia in India. The numbers are expected to triple by 2050. It is estimated that in Bangalore around 46,000 elderly people are living with dementia,” he added.

The Nightingales Medical Trust has launched services ranging from diagnosing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, training programs for carers and day care centres, to long-term residential care facilities for older people affected by related illnesses at the age.

The NMT has three residential care services for people with dementia. One of India’s largest residential care facilities at Kasturi Nagar, Bengaluru (100 beds), a 74-bed residential care center with telemedicine at Kolar and an exclusive 24-bed residential care facility for women with dementia in Kothanur.

“When we started the home care services, we had less than a dozen staff and we currently have 252 staff,” Premkumar Raja said.
“Ageism is a widespread problem in society. Due to the shift to the nuclear family system, generational gaps, and the inability of seniors to cope with technological advancements, the societal outlook for seniors has changed. Revered for their experience and knowledge, they are slowly seen as people unable to keep up with the changing times,” said the co-founder of Nightingales Medical Trust.

“Although some seniors, especially the middle class, have tried to keep up with technology and it has been a great way to stay socially connected, it has definitely alienated seniors who cannot afford to learn and keep up with the changes in technology. There is a need to promote digital literacy for all older people so that they can be self-sufficient,” he stressed.

Over the next few years, the co-founders of the Nightingales Medical Trust hope to expand their range of services to reach more seniors.

“The NMT aims to establish a state-of-the-art dementia village using therapeutic environmental design concepts to provide personalized care to improve residents’ quality of life. The proposed village would be created in such a way that residents can lead normal and independent lives to the maximum without compromising their safety,” Raja said.

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