A ‘panic button’ to help elders

Vaishali R Venkat

panic button

Here is a free device for underprivileged seniors to bail them out of emergencies

Aathma Foundation has launched ‘Aathma Panic Button,’ a device for senior citizens that is meant to help them in emergencies.

Water-proof, the device can be worn even when the person is taking a bath. The button works on the basis of a platform called Cuckoo Server, which converts sound waves into a voicemail. The moment a person presses the panic button, a pre-recorded voicemail about him/her is sent as three messages — to the 108 ambulance, a neighbour and an immediate relative.

Someone in charge of 108 ambulance will call the neighbour or the relative and ask them about the condition of the person. If he is fine, the matter ends there. Otherwise, the ambulance will arrive at the spot in ten minutes.

Earlier, at an inauguration function held at the Egmore museum, the device was given free-of-cost to 100 senior citizens in need.

Next month, the Foundation will give away 100 free buttons to underprivileged senior citizens. However, for those who could afford it, the device comes at a cost of Rs.7,500.

In addition to the panic button, the Foundation gives free medicines to those having diabetes, hypertension or cardiac conditions.

The free medicines is couriered along with a “bill of receipt”, to patient’s house. The bill has to be signed and a photo of it sent to the Foundation’s WhatsApp number. Once the signature is received, the cost of the medicines will be paid to Muthu Pharamacy, which supports the initiative.

“Though medicines will be given for free over the lifetime of the beneficiary, the patients cannot approach us directly. They have to come through doctors in their areas and the patients have to produce the doctor’s prescription, every month.

This is because dosage of medicines for hypertension, cardiac conditions and diabetes may change often. We will also check with the doctor to find out if the patient is really underprivileged. Those who can afford these medicines will not be considered for this initiative,” says Dr. D. Suresh, chairman, Aathma Foundation, who also runs Amma Hospital.

The Foundation not only provides free medicines for the needy. It also provides them with home-nursing and home physiotherapy services. Half of the cost towards these services will be borne by the Foundation.

Through an initiative called ‘Amma Saranalayam,’ the Foundation is providing monthly packages for those who are bedridden, senior citizens and terminally-ill patients. “By this initiative, all the requirements of the patients, including food, accommodation and medicinal care are being taken care of.

The medical services are provided round-the-clock, under the guidance of doctors and paramedical staff. If necessary, physiotherapy, ICU care, super-specialty consultations and pain management will be provided too as part of a reasonable package,” says Suresh.

For more details, contact Pushpa at 9791151719 or Manikandan at 8939484501.

Demand for nurses on rise as families, with elderly to care for, go on vacation

Ekatha Ann John | TNN | Apr 11, 2016


CHENNAI: Unlike other patients in the hospital ward, K Ramani, 83, had no tubes running across his body or saline solutions attached to him. An attendant would give him his meals and medicines thrice a day and accompany him on his evening walks. Sometimes, a curious fellow ward-mate would ask details of his ailment.

"I tell them the truth: My family is on a holiday and they admitted me here because I'm too old to travel," says Ramani, a retired schoolteacher who lives with his son and his family in Kilpauk.

While Ramani's family goes on a vacation every year, 44-year-old home-maker Vimala will be going on a holiday next week, for the first ti me in a decade, leaving her mother in the care of a homenurse. "I feel guilty , but we all need a break," says Vimala whose 87-year-old mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's three years ago. "She had mobility issues from very early on, and travelling wasn't easy . It was hard on her and us," says Vimala. City nursing homes report a spike in calls from people looking for care-givers for their elderly kin as they plan holidays. Some ask for nurses who can take care of them at home, others for short-term stay overs for the elderly.

R Muthukrishnan, senior manager at HelpAge India, says the organisation recei ves at least two calls a day in the summer and wedding season asking for referrals for short-term stay .

"Sometimes caregivers need time off to relax too or take care of other responsibilities. This can't happen if there's an elderly person at home, especially if they have mobility issues or dementia or Alzheimer's," says Muthukrishnan. While the city has facilities for long-term stay for the elderly, there are only a few that cater to those seeking short-term stay .

Recognising this need, Krishna Kavya, co-founder of Front-Enders Healthcare, started a service for the elderly three years ago where trained attendants are sent to their clients' homes. "Some require medical attention, but many don't. They either have high BP or vision and hearing problems, or diabetes, or ortho-related issues like knee pain," says Kavya, who is currently catering to 50 families, 30 of them for a short duration of 4-5 days. "We have people who have suffered from stroke earlier but are fine now. Their families still prefer having someone around to take care of them in case of emergency," she says.

It isn't just the physical part, families are also worried about their safety . "Appointing home nurses for shortterm care is still rare because of the cost and security reasons," says geriatric physician Dr V S Natarajan, who gets requests from hapless families. "I don't know where to refer them to. We have very few facilities for short-term stays. They are even more reluctant to take them if the person suffers from a condition," says Dr Natarajan.

104 helpline to offer geriatric services


Published in THE HINDU, Chennai, July 6, 2015.

Read More.


Sabita Radhakrishna


India is greying and the average lifespan increased. According to a 2013 report by the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) India has around 100 million elders at present, and is likely to shoot up to 323 million contributing to about 20 % of the population by 2050. The Government would be well advised to start framing policies for elder care right now. Formerly the elders lived with the family and the youngsters deemed it their responsibility to look after them till the very end.

Living as we do in nuclear families, the children are no longer held responsible for their parents future, who are often left to their own devices for survival. The need of the moment is elder care, and organisations have sprung up to meet the need, but, being new to the situation, efficiency and overall planning leaves much to be desired. Retirement homes are cloaked with “decent” names.. no longer Old People’s Homes which conjures up images of poverty stricken, deserted old people. Some of the communities offer high end homes with every possible convenience you can think of. The NRI children feel less guilty about leaving their parents behind, especially if they are funding the luxuries for them.

Moving into retirement homes is not always the answer. While creature comforts are provided, some don’t favour the perpetual company of other old people who always discuss their aches and pains and other complaints. It is undoubtedly true that younger people entering our lives bring in fresh perspectives, laughter and new experiences, and do rejuvenate older people. As a plus point, there are more geriatric doctors today, and the traditional GP is making a comeback in a different avatar. House visits are possible, so also home nursing facilities. Recovery is faster in a familiar environment rather than be confined to the hospitals where the white coats and antiseptic smells drive fear into most people.

If a longer lifespan is made possible, it is vital that the quality of life should be improved, and just because one is old, it does not mean relegating the ills and discomfort to the backburner, ignoring them as part of the travails of old age. Few of us realise that the old people need to be treasured, and their contributions in various fields remembered. For some of them the knowledge and the experience is still intact, and the younger ones can to a large extent harness the rich fund of knowledge.

True, we live in a turbo charged age, where computerisation has hastened results, with a press of a button. Few have the patience to listen to an older person offer his advice and experience at a pace that only he or she is used to. It is the impatience that upsets the elders, and the lack of time the children spend with their parents.

Depression is very common in old age. It stems from mostly loneliness, a sense of not belonging and scant self worth, that they have outlived their usefulness to society and to the family coupled with a sense of guilt for being alive and causing strain on their children. It is hard when a man who has been breadwinner makes the transition from a full blown productive career to total retirement. Financial stability is threatened further when chronic health problems set in, and the medical bills mount despite insurance claims. Further some of them lose a spouse or dear friends, and they do become conscious of their own mortality. When depression sets in so deeply the seniors let go of their lives, and this situation morphs into various physical ailments which are often fatal.

While these sort of depressive moods can be lightened by persons who visit or family, depression can grow into clinical depression which is serious and has to be treated by trained psychologists and in some severe cases psychiatrists who will decide if appropriate medication can be given. Medication might address the symptom but will not uncover the reasons deep down in the recesses of the mind. Counselling helps to a large extent, and sometimes prolonged treatment is necessary.

Some of the signs to look for would be persistent sadness, diminished interest in everyday activities, fatigue, insomnia, lack of appetite, difficulty in concentrating, lack of memory, excessive crying for the slightest reason, and physical symptoms which don’t respond to treatment. This can to a large extent, be lessened with professional help.

With the number of elders on the increase concerted attempts should be made to help them out. In India we have never thought of old age or disability as something to be addressed. Shopping means climbing stairs, and if there is no lift very few shops have side rails to hold on to. Buses are difficult to mount, pavements are suicidal for older people to walk on them. Houses are not older people friendly with split levels and lack of grab rails in places like bathrooms. Wheel chairs are a must in public places, and it is gratifying today to see wheelchairs in every mall.

Some families are so protective of their aged parents that they just clamp down on their independence. They cannot visit friends or relatives because “they might feel tired” they are not allowed to pursue their interests, since these interests might call for transport, or certain kind of material to be purchased and so on. An active woman even in her eighties can be allowed to do what she likes doing in the kitchen provided someone keeps a vigilant eye. Don’t strip them of the simple pleasures of life. Hold hands, keep smiling with the old and the infirm and it is a rewarding experience!

The writer is Founder Chairperson of UDHAVI…care for the elderly. She may be contacted at

Volunteer group to give elderly a hand

Joeanna Rebello Fernandes


Making them feel on top of the world



It's not about stopping the clock, but about positive ageing. Hema Vijay meets Dr. V.S. Natarajan, India's first professor in Geriatric Medicine, who was awarded the Padma Shri recently

Now, after over three decades of caring for the aged, Dr. Natarajan has been recognised for the path-breaking service he has rendered to senior citizens, by being conferred the Padma Shri this year. “It is an honour for all senior citizens of the country, is the overwhelming congratulatory message that I keep getting”, he says with a smile.

Reading Fergusson Anderson's Problems of the Aged was a great inspiration, and following late MMC Prof. A.L. Annamalai's suggestion, Dr. Natarajan headed to U.K.'s Southampton General Hospital in 1973 to train in geriatric medicine. Ever since, the doctor has continued making pioneering achievements — he established the country's first geriatric inpatient ward in 1988

In 1996, he established the country's first M.D. programme in geriatrics under the MGR University. Dr. Natarajan was also part of the team at the NGO Senior Citizens Bureau, which started the popular senior citizens' journal, Link Age.

Then, there is the unique memory clinic that he runs for the elderly, and the free geriatric camp that he holds every week at various villages in the state, which have no access to health care, leave alone geriatric care. “When I retired, I decided to move into the community to serve”, he says, adding, “The idea was to prevent health trouble, rather than just resorting to treatment when trouble strikes”.

Over the years, Dr. Natarajan has been making a sustained pitch for promoting geriatric care through numerous research papers, books (Nutrition for Better Health in Old Age, Ageing Beautifully), videos (Mind your Mind) and conferences.

Doctor at your doorstep

Recently, Dr. Natrajan helped the Senior Citizens Bureau establish the Geriatric House Call project, which is a helpline that brings doctors and nurses to the doorstep of the elderly, through just a phone call (26412030, 9884145189, 28231388). Several of Dr. Natarajan's former students are part of this 35-doctor strong helpline which includes physiotherapists, general physicians, geriatricians, nursing assistants and even a drug delivery service (9962013178). Efforts are on to establish such help lines in the cities of Madurai and Tiruchi. Dr. Natarajan also reckons that there is great scope for trained geriatric nursing assistants. “If our poor and less educated girls and boys can be trained in this, it would be a route to financial independence for them, besides satisfying the huge need of the growing numbers of financially-independent but physically-dependent elders in society”, he points out.

Not just cardiac issues, but memory loss, dementia, osteoporosis, falls and urinary incontinences are areas that senior citizens need to stay on guard about, informs Dr. Natarajan, who never misses his morning walk and meditation routine every day. Dr. Natarajan continues, “About 30 to 40 per cent of memory loss is treatable, but many senior citizens suffer its impact without seeking treatment. And do you know, pneumonia, which troubles so many elders can be prevented by a vaccine that gives protection for 10 years? Properly handled, old age can be a good period of life.”

Especially so, if you are working for others, focused on a bigger vision than personal goals, like this 72-year-old.

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