KOCHI, India (AP) — When 82-year-old Vasanthi Baby nearly tripped down the stairs in her home in the southern Indian state of Kerala, she decided to move in with her 84-year-old husband, V. Baby. Assisted living center.
The couple are two of a growing number of people entering assisted living centers in India’s only aging state. They enjoyed the care they received: round-the-clock access to nurses, their own birth control company, and healthy regular meals.
“There is a sense of security that we only get here,” V. Baby. “We can’t get that at home.”
Like millions of people in the region, Beebe, a retired mathematics professor, spent his life savings building a two-story multi-bedroom house. It was meant for the last generations: their son Sonny was supposed to have and raise his family here, but he migrated to the UAE for work and a better quality of life.
Over the past 60 years, the percentage of people aged 60 and over in Kerala has increased from 5.1% to 16.5% – the highest proportion of any state in India. This makes Kerala stand out in a country with a rapidly growing population. It will soon become the world’s most populous nation at 1.4 billion.. India has a growing workforce and a young population, but language barriers, climate risks, limited federal grants and the growing desire of young people like Sonny to live elsewhere put the state’s elderly at risk.
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series exploring what it means to live in India’s 1.4 billion population, soon to become the world’s largest population.
The country’s population has more than quadrupled. Independence from colonialism 75 years ago. But the world’s largest democracy remains in many ways a place of two countries: urban and rural, modern and pre-industrial, rich and poor. The harvest year in which older people fall on the divide will determine how they will live.
About 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the assisted living center in the Mattancherry neighborhood of Kerala’s financial capital, Kochi, 65-year-old Zeinana Ali lives in a small room with an asbestos roof around the corner from her daughter’s house.
Ali spent most of her youth working as a cleaner in countries around the Middle East, but she has little savings to show for it. She returned to India after suffering from arthritis and several other health conditions that left her unable to work.
“I receive a small pension from the government, but this did not come for months. I survive because of the goodwill of my children,” said Ali. Her daughter does not work and her son is a daily wage laborer. “Even buying medicine has become difficult now.”
In India, people over 60 are entitled to a government pension of 1,600 rupees ($20) a month, often insufficient for basic needs. This means that many elderly people rely on their children if they are unable to work and do not earn enough money. In Kerala, where there are over 4.2 million senior citizens, it can be tough on family finances.
Floods and heat waves, both Man-made climate change has worsenedAnjal Prakash, director of research at the Indian School of Business, said it would increase the vulnerability of Kerala’s elderly.
Kochi in particular has been bearing the brunt. In the year In 2018, severe flooding submerged large parts of the city. Summers are getting hotter and longer and the rains are more erratic and intense.
“When it rains, we have to keep open umbrellas in the house,” said Ali, pointing to buckets placed in different corners of the house. “The summer has become almost unbearable. Because of the hot sun, we often go to the beach to find shade. In here, the fan doesn’t work properly.
Prakash said special measures to care for older people, who have their own needs and vulnerabilities, are a “dark spot” in climate policy.
“Understanding the unique needs of seniors is the first step to protecting them. … People are not trained to save the elderly and babies,” he said.
The movement of young people away from the state means that there are fewer people to care for their older relatives.
Poonam Mutreja, executive director of the New Delhi-based People’s Foundation of India, points to a steady flow of emigration from Kerala for at least 50 years. In the year In the 1960s and 1970s, “there was massive migration to the Middle East, East Africa. Many have gone to other countries as school teachers or nurses, a trend that has recently continued to Europe and North America, she said.
The aging population combined with the migration of younger generations means that by 2030, there will be 35 people in every 100 working age groups and over 60 people, according to the government of Kerala. This means that more assisted living facilities are needed to adequately staff them.
“Producing qualified staff is a big challenge today and bringing in people from other states doesn’t always work because of language barriers,” said Alex Joseph, managing trustee of Signature Homes, the assisted living center where the children live. Joseph added that it is also difficult to find workers from Kerala as most of them wish to migrate abroad for work.
“Kerala probably sends more nurses to the rest of the world than any other state in India or any other state. It’s extremely difficult to get them to stay here and work here for a long time,” he said.
The unique demography of the state in India is due to declining fertility and increasing life expectancy due to state policies. Since the formation of the state in 1956, Kerala has invested heavily in public health and education, prioritizing social welfare.
It pays off: Kerala’s literacy rate is 93 percent compared to India’s 75 percent. It is also the only state in India where the maternal mortality rate is less than one for every 100,000 live births.
In other parts of India, particularly in the poorer north, states have high population density, high levels of corruption and other issues that cause them to lag behind in health and education, Mutreja said.
But like Kerala, “South Indian states have invested in literacy, health infrastructure and family planning, so birth rates are low,” Mutreja said. She speculated that states like southern Tamil Nadu could see Kerala-like trends in the long to medium term.
Although this is good news for most young workers, it can be difficult for older generations.
Despite his cheerful demeanor, Baby says he misses his son, but agrees that there is a better life to live elsewhere.
“I can’t ask him to stay here,” he said.