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Wisdom Stories Ep.38: Dr. Alexander Thomas

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Cultural expectations surrounding the elderly are being challenged today, and with good reason!

While it was the norm to slow down and retreat into a quieter life post-retirement, more men and women are finding purpose and joy in doing the opposite.

WisdomCircle honours such men and women by shining light on their journey through an inspiring series called “Wisdom Stories”. These people have successfully smashed stereotypes, and their stories remind us that life should be lived to the fullest, no matter what age or stage.

In 2012, I authored a pivotal document for the Planning Commission of India, shedding light on the aspirations of the elderly in India, revealing a distressing reality. Following this, I engaged sporadically with policymakers, striving to advocate for the needs of senior citizens. Two years ago, I initiated Vayah Vikas, a platform that has now grown to encompass over 50,000 members. Through these endeavors, I have been dedicated to addressing the challenges faced by the elderly and fostering a supportive community that prioritizes their well-being and empowerment.

We interviewed Dr Alexander Thomas, one of the honourees of 58 Over 58, a collaborative endeavour spearheaded by WisdomCircle and INK. The mission is to spotlight the narratives of 58 remarkable individuals annually, individuals who are meaningfully engaged in their post-retirement phase.

What was a key moment that defined your current path?

The important moment that shaped my current path was during the preparation of the document on aspirations for the elderly. Interacting with experts nationwide, I discovered a stark reality: the welfare of senior citizens in our country was far from ideal. This realisation fueled my determination to dedicate substantial time to advocating for seniors’ well-being, striving to ensure they lead lives filled with happiness and dignity. This profound experience ignited a passion within me to work tirelessly on this crucial issue, driving me to commit to improving the quality of life for the elderly in our society.

 How would you define your purpose? And why did you choose it?

My purpose is to leverage my expertise in establishing three nationally recognised healthcare organisations (AHPI, CAHO and ANBAI) to amplify the collective voice of seniors. Recognising the power in unity, I founded Vayah Vikas as a platform driven “by the seniors, for the seniors, of the seniors.” Through this collective effort, I aim to champion the needs and rights of the elderly, ensuring their voices are not just heard but also respected and acted upon. By empowering seniors to speak as one, I strive to create a society where their concerns are prioritized, leading to a more inclusive and supportive environment for older adults.

What is your flex today? How is it different from a decade or two ago?

Two decades ago, I was unaware of the pressing need for senior care, assuming our cultural values ensured elders were cared for. Today, I recognise the impending shift as India rapidly ages, with a looming generation of seniors. Previously, I believed this issue was confined to urban settings, yet now it pervades both urban and rural landscapes. This stark realisation has fueled my commitment to advocating for the elderly. Understanding the evolving demographics, my focus has shifted towards creating sustainable solutions to support and empower seniors, ensuring they are not marginalised but valued members of society, irrespective of location.

What advice would you give your younger self?

If I could advise my younger self, I would emphasise the importance of adapting to the evolving landscape for Seniors. Gone are the days when children automatically cared for parents. Today’s elders must plan for post-retirement health, financial stability, and independence. It’s crucial to strategise for a healthy future and sustainable income post-retirement. Engaging with NGOs can provide support and advocacy. Networking and planning ahead ensure a secure and fulfilling life as a senior citizen. Prioritising self-sufficiency and proactive planning empowers individuals to navigate their elder years with confidence and dignity.

Is there anyone you look up to, to help chart your post-retirement journey?

In my personal journey, I find inspiration in individuals and organisations dedicated to elder care and advocacy. I look up to those who prioritise social networking and collaboration with NGOs and other entities focused on supporting the elderly community. By engaging with organisations in the elder space, including working alongside family members, I aim to plan and navigate the later stages of life thoughtfully. Drawing wisdom and guidance from these sources, I strive to contribute positively to the well-being and quality of life of seniors, ensuring a fulfilling and dignified journey through their golden years.

What are the current gaps in the post-retirement eco-system? Where is the pressing need for attention?

The current eldercare landscape faces critical gaps requiring immediate attention. While laws exist, effective implementation is lacking. The Government must foster a more elder-friendly environment to address the pressing needs of seniors. Loneliness, mental health challenges, and insufficient healthcare coverage stand out as major deficits. Tackling these issues demands a holistic approach, prioritising mental well-being, social connectivity, and access to quality healthcare services. Bridging these gaps is essential to ensure that our elderly population receives the empowerment, care, support, and dignity they deserve in their later years.

What would your advice be to WisdomCircle, to help plug these gaps?

My advice to WisdomCircle is to empower seniors to lead productive, healthy lives and contribute meaningfully to society. Keeping seniors engaged not only promotes their well-being but also taps into their reservoir of wisdom, discipline, and knowledge. Leveraging the expertise of senior citizens can enrich the activities of WisdomCircle and benefit the community at large. By recognising and utilising the valuable resources that seniors offer, WisdomCircle can create a vibrant and inclusive environment that honours and harnesses the unique capabilities of older adults.

Why is leaving a legacy important for you? What would you like yours to be?

My legacy would be the transformation of Vayah Vikas into the world’s largest senior citizens’ organisation, boasting millions of members. This entity, driven “by the seniors, for the seniors,” would emerge as a potent voice advocating for policy reforms and societal support. Through Vayah Vikas, seniors would gain a platform to voice their needs and ensure that society meets its obligations towards them. My aspiration is for this organisation to stand as a testament to empowerment, unity, and proactive change, leaving a lasting impact on how seniors are perceived and supported globally.

 3 words that describe your life right now.

Active. Content but Restless. 

Read more Wisdom Stories on WisdomCircle

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