New Delhi: At the age of 26, Kabir Chadha is founder of Epoch Elder Care – an organisation that is committed to healthy ageing and provides professional at-home care for elderly Indians. When he came visiting India while working abroad and stayed with his 83-year-old grandmother, it changed Kabir’s outlook towards life.
He realised the many needs of an elderly person and how ill-equipped people were to deal with these. He left his job and launched Epoch. Kabir says, “When people think about at-home care, they usually cannot think beyond being looked after by a ‘maid’. We want to change that perception.”
Epoch’s elder care specialists are highly educated professionals, having master’s degrees in fields related to elder care management like gerontology, social work and psychology. They send out updates to the children of elderly client for every session held. Currently Epoch’s services are available in Delhi and the National Capital Region. But Kabir is now turning his focus on overseas Indians.
He speaks to Gulf News in an exclusive interview.
GULF NEWS: What kind of research went into the care for the elderly?
KABIR CHADHA: Before setting up Epoch, I attended elder care conferences abroad, including one in Hong Kong, which widened my knowledge in this field. I also interacted with doctors and specialists to get the nuances and feel of the work that I wished to carry out. But once I started, I realised that what our clients really cared about and what they needed was not usually the same.
What services does Epoch provide?
We provide at-home care that includes social support and mental stimulation, which the elderly need. Our services include home visits, companionship, and medical management and we organise social events to get the elderly out of their homes and engage with one another. We also assist them with technology like email, Skype, facebook and mobile phone usage. For our clients having Alzheimer’s or dementia, we provide memory and respite care.
Is special focus placed on people with Alzheimer’s and dementia?
Yes. In India, we find that 75 per cent of women above the age of 80 years have Alzheimer’s. And for people in this category we do a lot of preparation. Instead of preparing for one or two hours as in other cases, herein we prepare for every two minutes. That is because the attention span of such people is different. Their mood and focus changes rapidly and they can repeatedly become totally disoriented. So, we have to keep them engaged and entertained at the same time.
What is the general age group you cater to and what are the charges?
Presently, we have 50 clients — in the age group of 64 to 95. It’s a subscription-based contract, which has to be renewed every three months. The charges are between $200 (Dh734) to $500 a month, depending on the frequency and duration of our visit.
Do you think people lack sensitivity to understand the needs of the elderly or is it money power that they pay and prefer others to look after their elders?
There are all kinds of people. In a nuclear family, where both husband and wife have jobs, even if they want, they are not able to give time to the elderly at home. So, for various reasons, millions of old people today either live alone or are abandoned. Many have a room to themselves, but no one from the family goes to that room to share their joys and sorrows. And the only people they end up talking to is the maidservant. It is so unfortunate to separate the elderly from the family unit. And this happens in all — high, middle and low-income group — households.
Is loneliness a major issue these days?
Absolutely. And I would categorise it as general loneliness and depression, which are two different things. In general, all elderly people we meet are depressed. If you hold the hand of an elderly person, you realise that compared to a younger person, they hold the hand for a longer time, because it has been a long time that someone held their hand. That is loneliness. They have not got the opportunity to speak and have a lot to say, but no one to listen to them. So, we visit them every alternate day and make phone calls on interim days.
Do the elderly say that visits by Epoch specialists have made a difference to their lives?
It all shows in their mannerism. They start looking forward to our visits and we find them sitting all dressed up and waiting for us, even an hour before the appointed time. They treat us like a surrogate son or daughter and we become intermediaries between them and their family members.
How do you tackle issues wherein needs for the elderly clash with what their children want for them?
There are varied kinds of clients — some children do not want us to give them any feedback, leaving it to us to check upon their parents. In other cases, the elderly confide in us asking not to share the details with their children. With such conflicts, we have to understand what’s good for the aged. Most times the children are right and the elders are stubborn and want to remain independent. Then we become counsellors and cajole and push our way to make the elderly understand about health and other issues.
Any plans for the not-so-rich clients, who care for the elderly, but cannot afford the services?
Within the next one or two years, we would like to cater for them as well. Unfortunately, the biggest problem Epoch faces is dearth of good talent in this field. Most youngsters do not have the sensitivity, patience and desire to spend time with the elders. They find the job boring. So, one has to really make an effort to find the right people and pay well to get them to work.
Do you have any expansion plans?
We are now looking to focus on NRIs in the UAE, the US, UK and Hong Kong. We are also starting to work with low-income group old age homes by developing projects and would like to see people living in a clean and hygienic environment.