More than 75 million Indians over the age of sixty — roughly one in two people — are affected by chronic conditions according to the Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (LASI).
The study is the world’s largest ever study conducted on the elderly and paints a damning picture of the health burden India’s elderly population faces. As India’s elderly population continues to grow, this burden is set to increase further.
Around forty percent of the over-sixty population has some form of chronic condition. Twenty percent were found to have mental health issues. 27 percent of individuals were found to have comorbid conditions, further complicating treatment and presenting greater risk of mortality.
This population is at far greater risk due to the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. As previously mentioned by Health Issues India, treatment of and diagnostic services for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) has been severely compromised by the pandemic, leaving a population already at risk even more vulnerable.
Indeed, the pandemic situation presents a dual burden to these individuals. On one hand, due to lack of treatment availability as a result of the pandemic, the individuals affected are at risk of their underlying chronic conditions worsening. On the other hand, many chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease — both common in India — are a major risk factor for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.
“About 45 million have cardiovascular disease and hypertension and about twenty million suffer from diabetes, and 24 percent of the elderly has difficulty in performing daily functions such as walking, eating, toilet etc; according to this survey,” said KS James, director of the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS) in Mumbai in comments to The Hindustan Times. “Even if we assume ninety percent of these people are taken care of at home, there is still ten percent that would require professional help.
“Imagine the employment opportunities that will be generated in future and the number of people who would require training to take care of the elderly in our country,”
Chronic diseases are now — by a considerable margin — the most common causes of death within India. The dual burden of noncommunicable and infectious diseases has created a severe burden for the health system, one that has only been placed under further strain during the pandemic. Management of these conditions, and caring for the millions affected by them, must be a priority of the healthcare system moving forward. The alternative is that India’s elderly are to see their health and dignity slowly deteriorate.