When the news of COVID-19 hit the papers, I had two thoughts: first, as a granddaughter anxious for my grandparents, and second, as a public health specialist on how to effectively calibrate a response to address their questions, fears and need for reassurance.
While many elders have high care needs and are dependent when there’s a lock-down it gets that much harder. The statistics of COVID-19 are severely skewed towards older adults, putting them squarely in the highest risk groups, and making me one of the most worried granddaughters.
It is well known that a shortage of medicines, hospital beds, basic necessities and essential services have left the elderly pushed to the back of long lines and to the bottom of priority lists. It is not only exposure to the disease that is of high concern but also the fact that everyday life is severely disrupted. We are living in a dystopian time, a real-time survival of the fittest – who can stand in the line for groceries the longest, who can fight for the last packet of milk, who can drive to the farthest chemist, who can pay for an oxygen tank at home. This is a palpable worry for the elderly, their caregivers, for those who cannot share the burden of this crisis being locked down in distant cities, and even more so for those who do not have anyone to look after them.
India has a 104 million-strong population of elderly, i.e., 8.5% of the population is a high-risk group for COVID – 19. 20 million of India’s elderly population either live alone or only with their spouse and hence have to manage their material and physical needs on their own. They are income insecure or completely financially dependent, making them more vulnerable to the disease as well as pushing them further into hardship, especially during long nationwide lockdowns.
Despite the bleak possibilities and high risk, as a caregiver and a “care-er”, there are ways to care for those who live with you, those who live away from you. I took some steps and here are some steps you can take too:
- Plan, Plan, Plan! – Planning will not only help you prepare the next few crucial weeks but also helps reduce panic and anxiety, so communicate a care plan among family members and caregivers. Support the elderly living in your communities by helping them plan too. There should also be enough food and medication in the house that can last for at least two weeks. Give them access to delivery services that they can use, in case they do not live with you, plan meals, plan regular health updates and plan for emergencies.
- Self Care – Self-care, both physical and emotional, is also important, people who are looking out for other people sometimes to forget to take care of themselves. If you’re down, you can’t care for your loved one. Follow the general guidelines of protecting yourself from the disease, and be extra precautious if you have elderly living at home.
- Minimize the risk – Postpone unnecessary doctors visits, find doctors who are advising patients over the phone, cancel non-essential travel and cancel as many visitation by outsiders. If exposed to the disease, both the elderly and the caregivers are at high risk.
- Keep them involved, occupied and active – Encourage older adults to walk inside their homes, back and forth from room to room is enough to get the blood flowing. Giving homebound older adults a project they can work on like writing down family recipes, organising old photographs can keep their brain juices flowing.
- Stay connected – Most importantly, practice social distancing and not social isolation. We need to keep older adults safe, but also keep in mind that social isolation can have a negative impact on older people’s immunity and mental health. Show them how to video chat, usee apps that provide captions for adults with hearing challenges, encourage friends and family outside of your household to stay connected too.
It is easier to support those who live with you than those who live away from you. This is the time to extend your real and virtual helping hands to those who need it the most.
Call your retired neighbours, your distant elderly relatives, and support them in staying safe and healthy. Help them plan for emergencies, stock-up on essentials and understand technology to help them stay in touch. In an extraordinary time, make an extraordinary effort to connect with the ones you love, who are alone and don’t know what to do. Info on medicine here pharmacie-rey.com.
One phone call a day can make all the difference.
Arushi Pandey is a public health specialist at Swasti, A Health Catalyst. Her expertise lies in project management and monitoring and evaluation.