My uncle lives in a community of, for and by retired people in South India where they live in private apartments and all their daily needs such as food, housekeeping, and medical care are provided by the community and charged for. He is 72 and suffers from severe hip and spine problems that force him to be confined to his bed for weeks at a time. Rest of the time he is well enough not to depend on anyone to get by. His wife is 64 and has bronchial problems. Her mother who is 94 stays with them. She is perhaps in better health than both of them except that she is weak due to her age. It is a sensible arrangement they have chosen as both their sons work and live abroad and here their days go by without having to worry about daily irritants in terms of house help and other logistics. But then there are times when they could do with some support from younger members of the family and their non-availability hits home hard.

Last month my aunt had to undergo Coronary artery by-pass surgery and she almost decided against the operation because there was no one around to help her during the post-operative phase and she was worried about leaving her mother alone without any help. Given the economic conditions and job losses, they did not want to ask their sons to take extended leave. And the sons did not insist on coming either. I am not judging them as this is perhaps just illustrative of how relationships have become secondary to employment interests. I almost wrote family ‘responsibilities’ there instead of relationships but I am no longer sure of how much responsibility the children have toward their parents. It seems that , like in the west, we have also come to believe that parents bring their children into this world so they need to accept responsibility for them while children owe nothing to their parents and so filial responsibility is probably an outdated concept.

She finally went through the surgery with help from extended family who gave her post operative care and made sure that her mother was not left alone.
While I was with my aunt she said something that made me think:
the doctors tell me that I have got another lease of life, at least another 10 years with this operation. But tell me what do I want another ten years for?” Perhaps it is the pain that she was going through that made her say that; or perhaps she meant it because she really doesn’t think she needs another 10 years. And she is a person who is highly educated and has varied interests such as books, music and crosswords. It is not lack of interests but a sense of purposelessness that made her say this.

Improvements in health facilities have given us extra years to live but neither our social system nor our infrastructure have changed enough to help us use these extra years purposefully. Traditionally old age was a period spent in pursuit of religious activities, accumulating good Karma away from the demands of the material world. But what about those who are not interested in such pursuits? They have a choice of baby sitting their grandchildren or watching unlimited hours of soaps, cricket or news. If one is an out doors person opportunities are restricted:
In cities like Bangalore, many new residential colonies do not even have proper footpaths and it is quite unsafe for the elderly to venture out on these roads even for a walk.
Very few areas have even a tiny park for these people to meet and spend the evening.
Concerts and plays mean commuting long distances for which transport is either unavailable or unaffordable in retirement.
Even public libraries are few and far between.
Most activities for entertainment and amusement are, in any case, aimed at a wallet-share of the young with a high spending ability and willingness.
Confined for the most part within the four walls of their homes, it isn’t a surprise that they do not have much to look forward to.

These are reflective of our attitude toward old age. Maami ,in a very interesting post here calls this attitude ageism. Such attitudes have been ingrained in our collective psyche as our culture and more specifically Hinduism imposes 'borders' on the ageing process. It clearly defines the stages of one's life, and people seem to take it that they cannot do certain things at certain ages, whereas the reverse in fact is true in today's economic, globalised world: feel free to do the things you always wanted to do, and if you can afford it, enjoy the best of what is available, don't care about what the world thinks of you as long as you think it is the right thing to do.
Spend your day at a satsang by all means if that is your idea of finding meaning in life but do not judge someone else who prefers to spend a day at the mall or who likes to relax with a pedicure or a facial. Finally they are at the age when they can make informed choices without being told what is the ‘thing to do’ or the ‘way to be’. Both airlines and railways have concessions for senior citizens. People should make use of these and travel to places together if their health allows them to. Above all, they must accept responsibility of ageing on themselves, i.e. not be fatalistic, exercise regularly, be disciplined in one's dietary habits, and search/reach out for those habits that reinforce critical requirements in healthy ageing, such as socialising with similar interests-seeking peoples, joint activities/outings, charity work,. Markets will keep up with their demands once they know that their wallets are available to plunder.

Old’ should stop being a bad word. I heard from a friend that in Singapore, it is now quite common to see large numbers of 50+ Chinese going to bangra classes, as they have learnt that it is very good for their bones, keeps their muscles toned , and is a good way to meet other people! People in the west talk about beginning life at 40 and even get married at 50 and 60 when they find their ideal companion for their sunset years. It may be a long way before we begin to accept such ideas but I think if people could liberate themselves from thinking and feeling ‘old’ there are still many ways in which they could make their old age enjoyable. The best age-defying mechanisms come from our thoughts and not from applying creams and lotions. I do not mean to over- romanticize old age as the high point of one’s life which it certainly isn’t; but my point is just that when you know something to be inevitable you might as well be prepared to face it with grace. It just seems the smart thing to do. There is a very thin line between dying alone and living free and it is completely decided by the way you decide to look at old age.

*Vanaprastha - is the third stage in the 4 main stages of life classified in Hiduism - Brahmacharya( student), grihastha (householder) Vanaprastha (retirement from worldly attachments) and Sanyasa (renunciation)