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Taking care of the elderly

The economic prosperity that we have enjoyed in the recent years has brought us face to face with new – and often sad – reality of shifting filial responsibility of care and welfare system for the ageing and the old.

As our communities become increasingly urbanised, not to say that a large number of elderly people without care and support today are in the rural parts of the country, steady rise in the number of urban poor down not many years from now is more than just likely. The old and the infirm without home or anyone to look after them are becoming increasingly visible, especially in the country’s bigger population centres.

And the unsettling trend is that the country’s youth population is witnessing gradual decline, shifting towards the adult group and adult to the older group.

Is socioeconomic development to blame? For indeed life style and values system of the Bhutanese have undergone dramatic change over the years. We no longer live in a comfortably isolated and slow-paced world of largely contented society. We are richer today and have more nest eggs than our forefathers had in their time.

The number of elderly without care is large in rural Bhutan probably because of increasing rural to urban migration. And this could remain so because the old are reluctant to live in the towns where their children work and make a living. Understandably they are worried how they might be able to adapt to the new environment and circumstances. Those who make to the urban centres are finding it challenging and deeply heart-breaking because their children are either unable to or do not find it in their heart to take care of their ageing parents.

We are today caught up in the wind of cutthroat competition and are busier and more self-absorbed than ever.

In the face of such modern challenges there is a need to look at policy issues related to old age problems. It is well past time the government read the runes and conceded that building old age homes with availability of vital professional services and care is an option worthy of our thought and notice. Holding on to the argument that Bhutan as a GNH country to have old age home is darkly antithetical is foot-dragging of the most sordid kind. We cannot let this emerging problem ride without any definite intervention from the government and the politicians.

On Tuesday, His Majesty The King visited the recently-completed Goensho Tshamkhang, a retreat for elderly people in Wangsisina, Thimphu. That this His Majesty’s People’s Project has given home to 19 elderly citizens who have no one to look after them was deeply comforting.

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