June 23, 2017 / 11:31 AM / 2 months ago

Panic buttons and apps come to rescue of elderly Indians suffering abuse

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police, advocates and entrepreneurs have launched mobile apps and panic buttons to report abuse against the elderly in India, where the number of older people living alone has risen, yet talking about their mistreatment remains taboo.

India has a tradition of honouring older people, and of multi-generational families living together. But with urbanisation, nuclear families and rising longevity, more elderly people are living by themselves or in care homes.

Nearly half the elderly people surveyed by non-profit HelpAge India said they had experienced abuse, both at home and in public, with more women saying they had suffered some form of mistreatment.

Growing awareness of elderly abuse has led to a host of new apps and technologies for the elderly or people who witness the abuse to call for help.

"It is unfortunate that we need such a solution, but that is the reality today," said Prasad Bhide, founder of Aaji (meaning "grandmother") Care, a mobile and web-based service that has launched a remote surveillance system.

Aaji Care offers a physical panic button, which calls five phone numbers, including the company itself in an emergency.

Bhide said he is also working on a smart device the elderly can use easily and discreetly to summon help when needed.

India has more than 104 million people aged 60 and older, according to official data. The elderly are forecast to make up a fifth of the country's total population by 2050.

An analysis of data from 28 countries, published this year by the Lancet Global Health, revealed nearly one in six people aged 60 and older had been psychologically abused, financially exploited, neglected, physically hurt or sexually abused.

Abuse against older people is forecast to rise as their population more than doubles to 2 billion by 2050, according to the World Health Organization.

"Despite the frequency and the serious health consequences, elder abuse remains one of the least investigated types of violence in national surveys, and one of the least addressed in national plans to prevent violence," Alana Officer, an adviser at the WHO, said in a statement last week.

Responding to pressure from campaigners, the Indian government has asked state officials to take steps to ensure the safety of the elderly.

Police in Mumbai keep a record of elderly people living by themselves, and recently launched ElderLine, a helpline that connects older people with volunteer doctors, hospitals, counsellors, social workers and police.

Police contacted by the GPS-based tracking and dispatch system send appropriate assistance to the caller's location.

A growing number of mobile app services catering to the elderly - such as in-home nursing and physiotherapy - are also adding features to help people report abuse.

HelpAge India launched an SOS mobile app after its surveys showed a rise in elderly abuse.

The absence of welfare safety nets for the elderly makes them dependent on their families and caregivers, and therefore more vulnerable to abuse, said Manjira Khurana, head of advocacy and communications at the non-profit.

Of the respondents who said they faced abuse, more than 40 percent did not report it.

HelpAge's app rings its helpline and is a "one-click, easy access emergency service", Khurana said.

"It is a way for the elderly to report abuse easily, or for others to do so," she said, noting a surge in calls to the helpline after the app was launched.

Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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