Nima Wangdi 

Calling for change to address growing social challenges, elderly citizens at the stakeholders consultation meeting on formulation of national policy of senior citizens in Bhutan yesterday said Bhutan needs old age homes.

Elderly people face various problems in the absence of a proper system to take care of  them and their interests.

A retiree, Nima Gyeltshen said there were tradition and cultural issues in having old age homes in the past. He said, given the social, emotional, psychological and livelihood issues that the senior citizens are facing today, old age care support like an old age home has become necessary.

“We should take careful consideration of our tradition and culture while doing this,” he said.

Relatives look after those wealthy elderly people, but those poor and without relatives suffer neglect and poverty in old age. “We see senior citizens in the towns left without proper care and shelter.”

The Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2017 estimates show that there would be 100,515 elderly Bhutanese, who are 60 years and above, by 2032.

Another retiree, Sonam Tshewang said that old age homes were not needed in the past due to the different set up of the society then. “Then, people worried about losing the bond and value of the relationship between the children and parents.”

He said, today, given the economic pressures, people have no time to remain home looking after elderly family members. “For now, many children are abroad and their aging parents are left behind. This doesn’t mean the children don’t love their parents but things are out of their control.”

Another elderly said the senior citizens are of different conditions; some are ill and others are too old.

A former Member of Parliament, Pema Lhamo said the families have become nuclear today. She said for many their income is not enough to look after the elderly at home.     

Pema Lhamo said, “There should also be support from the State for those taking care of their elderly people.”

She said, if the senior citizens are taken care of, the younger people could also be more productive. They will not have to attend to their elderly family members like today.

Another member said, people are not congenial for now. They worry about others criticizing them for not looking after their senior family members if they sent them to old age homes. “They keep them in corners instead to protect their own reputation.”

Former National Assembly Speaker, Jigme Zangpo said, while old age homes are needed, they should be set up in the villages and dzongkhags as well. “Otherwise, uprooting elderly people from villages and taking them to unfamiliar places could create problems.”

The Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) secretariat officials said a series of consultation meetings would be held before finalising the policy. The policy will be launched in October this year coinciding with the International Day of Older People.

GNHC organised the meeting in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Royal Society for Senior Citizens and United Nations Fund of Population Activities is funding the programme.