Posted by Barkha Shah
For those in the autumn of their lives, the COVID-19 has been more of a restrictive force than it is for others. Undoubtedly, their physical vulnerability has been a grim reality. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 95% of COVID-19 deaths were among the 60+ age group. As this information was emphasised on at the onset of COVID-19 itself, many elderly during the pandemic found themselves tied down to their homes, which in turn affected them mentally as well.
Which is why, several individuals and organisations have now stepped up their efforts in terms of providing supplies, medical care and emotional support to the elderly during the pandemic.
Not being able to step out, meet their children and grandchildren or even arrange for supplies has created a sense of fear and loneliness in the elderly during the pandemic. This is aggravated by the fact that many of them are retired and do not have many avocations to keep them busy.
A group of volunteers in Bangalore, called the Caremongers India , across India, has been helping the physically challenged, the expectant mothers and other vulnerable individuals such as the elderly during the pandemic with supplies and support. Over 20,000 volunteers have joined hands in this initiative.
Similarly, Project Mumbai roped in 50 mental health professionals to be on call between 8 am and 8 pm every day to help vulnerable communities such as the elderly during the pandemic to manage their fears. With the counselling being available in seven languages, the organisation has been working relentlessly to ease the distress through the pandemic.
ElderAid, which provides at-home health, wellness and concierge services to elders, received over 600 calls in the very first week of the lockdown pertaining to the issues faced by the elderly during the pandemic, with about 35% being from people abroad, worried about their parents’ health, safety, and vulnerability, back home in India. “A significant portion of ElderAid’s support work during the pandemic has been around counselling fear-ridden clients that everything will be alright,” says Dr Vandana Nadig Nair, co-founder of ElderAid Wellness. The organisation was even called in to oversee the funeral of an elderly person as the only child of the deceased was abroad, unable to fly down because of the pandemic. “All the child could see were photos and videos that we sent,” adds Vandana, sharing the practicality of technology during the pandemic.
Befriending technology has been game-changing for elders during the pandemic as it helped them get over their isolation to a significant extent. Silver Talkies, an online magazine for the elderly, is yet another social enterprise that is striving to keep the elderly during the pandemic engaged, active and connected. Classes on how to use Google Pay, Google Calendar, WhatsApp and more were also organised to help them navigate the new normal, better.
Silver Talkies has been working since 2014 with a focus on promoting active ageing as a desirable and viable goal. “Our firm belief is that staying active is the most promising and economical form of preventive healthcare,” says Nidhi Chawla, the co-founder. They’d host webinars on topics such as mental health, immunity-boosting diet and life during and after the lockdown for the elderly during the pandemic. They also conducted fun activities like virtual tours of musical instruments museum, playback theatre workshops, chair yoga sessions, virtual tea-party and even a month-long line dance lesson with Lourd Vijay, who is known to have introduced salsa to India.
Many seniors have pivoted and are now learning how to adapt to the changing times. Among them are Sujata Chittiappa and Goutom Chatterji, who were running a food outlet at the Bypanahalli metro train station in Bangalore since 2017. The outlet catered to the needs of about 1800-2000 people a day, until the pandemic hit. With the metro services shut down for months, Sujata and Goutom realised that they had to look for new avenues.
What made the situation more challenging for them was the fact that during this time, Goutom was in Chennai, Tamil Nadu while Sujata was in Bangalore, Karnataka. “I had gone to Chennai to see off my son who lives in the US. But I was stuck there for over a hundred days because of the lockdown,” says Goutom. “We didn’t retrench any of our staff members and wanted to continue providing them with a source of income,” adds Sujata.
That was when technology came to their rescue with people ordering as well as paying through online modes of quick transaction. Sujata handled the production and delivery of food with a lean, in-house staff of about three people in Bangalore. Goutom managed the menu, marketing, and accounts-related tasks, sitting in Chennai.
Needless to say, the pandemic has been a revelation for many. Nidhi from Silver Talkies shares encouraging examples of how they were able to help a septuagenarian sister get cooked food delivered to her octogenarian brother residing in another part of the city. They were also able to deliver time-critical medicines to a cancer patient besides helping many seniors get their groceries, adult diapers, oil for water pump and more. They partnered with Dunzo, an app for delivery services, for last-mile connectivity issues.
Volunteering has also seen an uptick during the pandemic. With the help of a group of youngsters, many civil society actors have been able to provide support to home alone elderly during the pandemic with doing as little as making friendly calls to check on them to providing them meals through the day.
Covid-19 has been life-changing for everyone, but more so for those in the autumn of their lives. But the grit, resilience, and willingness shown by the elderly during the pandemic to swim against the tide is inspiring. My grandmother’s 94-year-old friend still never misses to call to check on us. Her memory is fading, and she sounds worn out over the phone.
“When all this ends, come over for lunch,” she usually signs off. I say, “Yes, I will” with a hope for the pandemic to end soon.
Barkha Shah is a freelance writer and digital marketing strategist based out of Bangalore. Her work experience spans the journalistic field, a start-up and a global digital marketing agency. She has studied and worked both in the US and in India and is currently kept occupied primarily by the mischief of her child. You can check out her work on Contently.
Featured Image Source: straitstimes