Pha geba ta, bhu so (knowing you will age, you raise your child). This is an age-old adage that reminds us of the inevitability of ageing and the responsibility it carries, urging children to care for their parents and grandparents, while indicating why children are raised, often imposing the responsibility on the child to take care of their parents and grandparents.

So far, this has worked. It is a part of our culture, tradition and a responsibility. Bhutanese will never abandon their parents or grandparents. It is in our culture to take care of the seniors. And this goes beyond the family. The societal pressure is there too. Whether out of love or obligation, taking care of the old is guaranteed.

Is it changing? Yes, says many.

The demands of jobs, financial pressures, and shifting priorities are reshaping how we care for our elders. Confining grandparents to apartments as babysitters, leaving them to roam the Memorial Choeten all day, or even taking them abroad for childcare is far from ideal. Nevertheless, many resort to such measures in the relentless pursuit of success and competitiveness in today’s world.

The International Day of Old Persons, therefore, serves as a day of reflection. How can we ensure that our senior citizens enjoy a peaceful retirement, free from undue burdens, and how do we acknowledge their vulnerability even when they don’t vocalize it?

That our grandparents or senior citizens are taken care of is not true. For those with children and grandchildren aware of the responsibilities, old age is not an issue. But times have changed and so have priorities. As we strive to build our careers and businesses and compete in a materialistic world, the interests of our senior citizens often get overshadowed.

Many of us believed that we didn’t need official policy documents to emphasize the importance of respecting and caring for our older population or to recognize their substantial contributions to society. However, the International Day of Older Persons, observed here as well, serves as a reminder of the actions required to ensure the well-being, dignity, and rights of our senior citizens and to create a more inclusive and age-friendly world.

We could start by shaking off the belief that old age care centres are not only for the abandoned or those without children/grandchildren to take care of them. The centres provide better care even if they are removed from the near and dear ones. Many elderly people miss simple things like taking their medicines on time. This ironically happens when they are with their loved ones who are busy with their daily lives.

Non-communicable disease is a common disease among our senior citizens. Most NCDs need regimented medication. At old age care centres, nurses ensure that at least they get their treatment on time. At the grandchildren’s home, it is quite often left to them.

More than recognising and celebrating the contributions our senior citizens made to society, it is time to recognise their needs in these fast-evolving times.