Unknown Heroes: A doctor and a social entrepreneur tried to make life easier for the elderly in Bengaluru

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One of the consequences of Bengaluru’s transformation from a retiree’s paradise into the bustling IT capital of India over the past three decades has been the crowding out of the city’s senior citizens from public spaces.

Overcrowded public transportation systems, heavy traffic on the streets, and broken sidewalks combined with the shift toward nuclear family structures, rapid technological changes, and longer life expectancies have generally failed senior citizens of Bengaluru.

One of the few saving graces for the city’s elderly – who make up nearly 10 percent of the city’s population of over nine million – has been a nearly three-decade effort by a doctor and a social entrepreneur to anticipate the needs of Bengaluru’s “increasingly isolated seniors.” support and build facilities for their well-being.
dr Radha Murthy, a graduate of St. John’s Medical College, Bengaluru, and S. Premkumar Raja, an MPhil degree, started in 1996 with a simple attempt to provide medical care to the elderly in North Bengaluru at home – with a garage as the office owner of from Annamalai University, have built one of the backbones for elderly care in Bengaluru.

The Nightingales Medical Trust, founded in 1998 by Dr. Radha Murthy and Premkumar Raja based on their experience of providing home health care to the elderly in 1996 from Dr. Murthy’s home in Sadashivanagar, has over the years addressed issues such as elder abuse, caring for the homeless elderly as well as disease.

An Elders Helpline (1090), launched by the Nightingales in partnership with Bengaluru Police two decades ago – to address the problem of elder abuse for the first time in the country – remains a mainstay of support for Elders in Bengaluru dealing with family abuse such as problems such as receiving late pensions.

The Nightingales also run two homes for destitute elderly men and women from the vulnerable sections of society – Sandhya Kirana and Sandhya Suraksha – in partnership with the Bengaluru City Council and several senior enrichment centers in the Bengaluru area to engage the elderly, who are healthy but often alone at home in creative and professional pursuits.

With the increasing prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s due to longer lifespans, in recent years the Nightingales Medical Trust has dared to create one of India’s largest residential care facilities for the elderly affected by age-related diseases.

The foundation now trains paramedics in elderly care and was selected earlier this year by the State and Union governments to set up an Elders Helpline (14567) across Karnataka.

“Before we started Nightingales we worked in a hospital in Sadashivnagar. Back then we saw a real need for medical care at the doorstep of the elderly. We have found how difficult it is for elderly patients to access medical assistance due to health and mobility issues. Hospital visits by older people with chronic health conditions place a strain on patients and their carers alike,” said Raja, co-founder of the Nightingales Medical Trust.

“In response to this need, we launched Nightingale’s Home Health Services in January 1996 with the sole purpose of serving elderly people in need of routine or emergency medical care directly in their homes. That made us the pioneers of home health care in the country,” he said.

The Nightingales Home Health Services originally consisted of Dr. Radha Murthy as doctor, some nurses and Premkumar Raja as administrator. In the course of caring for elderly people at home, Dr. Murthy and Raja note that many of the “emotional, social and economic needs” of older people have also not been addressed.

“Having visited many retirement homes, we felt that retirement homes cannot be the only solution to these problems and felt that a comprehensive community-based approach was needed. To study these aspects, we founded the Nightingales Medical Trust (NMT) in 1998, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the well-being of older people and people with dementia and Alzheimer’s from all socioeconomic groups,” said Premkumar Raja.

One of the first services for the elderly that Dr. Murthy and Premkumar Raja under the Nightingales Medical Trust umbrella was an Elders Enrichment Center in Malleshwaram in 1999.

The center provided seniors with a forum for social interaction and enrichment, with access to a library, medical care, health counseling, and nutritional and financial planning.

“The purpose of this center was to counteract the loneliness of older people by meeting their social and emotional needs,” said Dr. Radha Murthy.

During interactions with seniors at the enrichment center and in providing health care at home, the Nightingales co-founders found that many older people from middle-class households were being abused at home by family members and caregivers. This gave rise to the idea of ​​setting up a helpline for older people in Bengaluru.
“We encountered many unaddressed issues, such as B. Elder abuse, which involves physical, emotional and psychological abuse and requires direct interventions that cannot be addressed through informal counseling. Some elders raised legal concerns for which they were reluctant to go to the courts as it was cost prohibitive…” said Dr. Radha Murthy.

“We were getting close to that Bangalore The city police set up a hotline for senior citizens. At that time, the women’s helpline and the children’s helpline were already established as community-based police department interventions,” she said.

Bengaluru Police invited Nightingales Medical Trust to set up the Elders Helpline in Bengaluru, and “for the first time in the country, a police agency and an NGO joined forces to address elder abuse” through the 1090 hotline in April 2002

“Initially there were few calls as older people were reluctant to reach out and complain. Over time, the Elders Helpline slowly gained recognition. To date, the Elders 1090 Helpline has handled 2,35,541 calls/contacts. Up to 10,591 serious complaints were registered, with 69 percent of the complaints being successfully resolved,” Premkumar Raja said.

During the experience of running the Malleswaram Elderly Enrichment Center and Emergency Line, Dr. Murthy and Raja state that although they addressed issues affecting middle-class elderly people in Bengaluru, there was still a large gap in addressing the issues faced by elderly people from the economically disadvantaged strata of society.

“We wanted to set up a similar center (like the enrichment center) for the marginalized elderly. We approached the BBMP with this proposal and were given space to set up a Sandhya Kirana Day Care Center for the Elderly in Shantinagar. Services have been tailored to meet the needs of elders from lower income groups and the focus has been on providing nutritional support, medical intervention and income generation activities,” said Raja.

In addition, in 2018 and 2020, the Nightingales Medical Trust established two residential facilities to care for poor and destitute elderly men and women in Bengaluru.

“The intention was to make Bengaluru free of homeless elderly beggars. With this intention, Sandhya Suraksha, a home for destitute elderly women, was established in November 2018 as elderly women were considered to be the most vulnerable. In 2020, a home for destitute elderly men was set up on the Sandhya Kirana compound,” Raja said. The two residential facilities now care for about 105 destitute elderly people, he added.

The increasing association with problems affecting seniors in Bengaluru brought Dr. Murthy and Raja in close proximity to the increasing incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s among the elderly with age and longer lifespans, and the struggles that families have had in terms of understanding and caring for seniors affected by aging disorders.

“As longevity increased, so did the associated medical complications. That’s when we realized dementia and Alzheimer’s were a growing concern,” Raja said. “There are currently 6.1 million people with dementia in India. The number is expected to triple in 2050. It is estimated that around 46,000 elderly people with dementia live in Bangalore,” he added.

The Nightingales Medical Trust has established services ranging from diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s to training programs for carers and day care, to long-term in-patient care facilities for seniors affected by age-related diseases.

The NMT has three inpatient care services for people with dementia. One of the largest inpatient care facilities in India in Kasturi Nagar, Bengaluru (100 beds), a telemedicine-enabled 74-bed inpatient care center in Kolar and an exclusive 24-bed inpatient care facility for women with dementia in Kothanur.

“When we started home care services, we had less than a dozen employees and we currently have 252 employees,” said Premkumar Raja.
“Age discrimination is a problem that is widespread in society. Due to the shift to the nuclear family system, generational gaps and the inability of the elderly to cope with advancing technology, the societal perspective for seniors has changed. They are revered for their experience and knowledge and are beginning to be seen as people who are not keeping up with the times,” said the co-founder of the Nightingales Medical Trust.

“Although some elders, particularly the middle class, have tried to keep up with technology and it has been a great way to stay socially connected, it has left those older people who don’t have the resources to learn and connect with the Keeping up with changes definitely alienates technology. There is a need to advance digital literacy for all older people so that they can become empowered,” he stressed.

In the coming years, the co-founders of the Nightingales Medical Trust hope to expand their range of services to reach more older people.

“The NMT aims to build a state-of-the-art dementia village that uses therapeutic environmental design concepts to provide personalized care to improve residents’ quality of life. The proposed village would be created in such a way that residents could lead normal and independent lives to the greatest extent possible without jeopardizing their safety,” Raja said.

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