Rapid disintegration of joint families and more people migrating abroad have increased the demand for caregivers
All three daughters of Meera, an octogenarian, work abroad. Meera’s daughters have hired caregivers to look after their frail mother, who currently stays in a pay-and-stay home for senior citizens in South-West Delhi. With a camera installed in her room, the daughters can monitor the wellbeing of their mother from their homes thousands of miles away in a foreign land.
Meera is not the only one in this pay-and-stay home; several other senior citizens are acquiring the services of the caregivers to cope with their growing age. The rapid disintegration of joint families and increasing number of people migrating abroad has led elderly people in India to take refuge in old age homes. In Delhi alone, there are nearly two dozen such institutes and many of them run on commercial lines.
However, whether staying in senior citizen homes or in their own homes, the elderly are increasingly becoming dependent on caregivers. This rapid increase in demand for elderly caregivers has given rise to a new class of workers known as geriatric care givers.
They are not just attendants looking after patients in hospitals, but they take care of the elderly in pay-and-stay homes for senior citizens or catering to the elderly living alone in their homes. Although the current unemployment rate is at its highest level, this is one area where the demand far exceeds supply.
Nidhi Chauhan, who works as a caretaker for Meera, and is a resident of Gonda Basti in Uttar Pradesh, believes that there cannot be a better job than this for someone like her who was not able to complete education after class 10. “Even though I was not able to complete my studies, I am able to earn enough to send money to my sister for her education and save some money for myself as well,” said Nidhi.
Hundreds of young men and women, like Nidhi, earn Rs 500 to Rs 700 per day for a 12-hour shift as caregivers for the elderly.
Under the backdrop of the rising demand and with the intent to equip the caregivers with the requisite knowledge and practical experience, the National Institute of Social Defence (NISD), started a three-month course in ‘Geriatric Care Givers/Bed and Bedside Assistants’. To participate in this course, one needs to have completed Class 10 education. The institute charges no fee and placement is certain at the end of the course.
According to NISD Deputy Director HC Sridhara Reddy, who looks after the department for senior citizens, there has been 100 per cent placement of their students ever since the inception of the certificate course. The course includes two months of theory and one month of practical training in hospitals.
The course trains the students in catering to bed-ridden elderlies, with responsibilities including checking their vitals, sugar levels, changing diapers, transferring them from bed to a wheelchair or stretcher as needed, feeding them, and all other activities aimed at providing care and support for a relatively easy, relaxed, and healthy lifestyle.
At the same time, they are also trained to give palliative care and manage crisis situations. The NISD also provides a two-month online course in ‘Geriatric Care and Care and Management of Dementia’.
Like all the previous batches, the two dozen students of the latest batch were recently shortlisted for jobs by four companies. Both Anil Kumar and Surya Prakash Yadav, who have been selected, were already working as caregivers, but with this new training and qualification, they can expect better placement and higher payment. “There is now a great scope to rise in this profession of caregiving by upgrading one’s skills,” said Anil Kumar and Surya Prakash.
However, Surya believes that if one wants a career in caregiving, giving services 24 hours a day or working daily for 12 hours daily may not be possible. “Once I complete my course, I will be able to get an eight-hour shift in homes for senior citizens who need the nursing staff to take care of the elderly or in other such entities,” he explained.
The NISD also offers a one-year Post Graduate Diploma in Integrated Geriatric Care in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Manoj, who did a year-long diploma course with NISD, has started his own non-profit called Shri Sewa Foundation. It employs both trained and untrained caregivers. He says that there is more demand than the availability of the caregivers, particularly those trained in geriatric care.
Currently, with the ever-increasing demand, the number of companies involved in providing geriatric care, health and nursing related services is also expanding. Para Home Care Pvt Ltd employs 200 caregivers across 11 cities. This company that has been taking students from NISD provides services to the elderly both at institutes and in homes. Apart from normal geriatric care, they also provide nursing, physiotherapy, and doctor’s visits.
Similarly, Life Circle Health Services provides care givers, as well as nursing services for the elderly in five cities. They also provide oxygen concentrators and physiotherapist services. Many of the clients, who live abroad, want caregivers who can take the elderly to the doctor and report to them.
Many old people suffer from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other chronic diseases and they need attention round the clock. Most of these employing companies are now equipping themselves to provide caregivers and nursing staff who will be able to go beyond elderly care and offer post-operative services, care of terminal patients, managing ICU set up at home or taking care of the patients suffering from other ailments.
The CEO and Co–Promoter of ‘365 Care’ feels that the care standards in India need improvement and claims that his company is working towards this goal. Most of the companies, including them, provide their services to anyone who needs caregivers and can afford it, not just the elderly. For instance, this company is already working in the area of palliative care with the Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai. The employing companies are upskilling the caretakers to suit the requirements of their clientele.
The payment varies depending on the hours the care providers work for. A day long shift gets a salary varying from Rs 15,000 or more and Rs 30,000 or more for 24x7 services per month.
Sunita Kumari, a young woman from Jharkhand, who has been shortlisted as a caregiver by one of the interviewing companies, says that for the time being, she would prefer to work in a senior citizens home or an institutional setting for her own safety.
But eventually she would like to start her own non-profit organization or company. She is also open to the idea of working abroad. The current life expectancy in India is 70.42 years, and with 12.5 per cent of India’s population expected to cross 60 years of age in the next seven years, the demand for caregivers in geriatric care is bound to go up. The challenge, as mentioned by one of the employing companies, is not the demand but quality of the services.
(The author is a senior independent development journalist: Charkha Features)