We are living through extraordinary times, and COVID-19 pandemic has had a dis-proportionate impact on older persons around the world – not only on their health but also on their freedom and well-being. When all travel ceased, all social gatherings were banned, and people were expected to maintain social distancing, the most affected category were seniors. Most people think that all is good if you take due precautions from infection and fail to recognize the emotional havoc and sense of insecurity this virus is creating for the elderly. During the last one year we worked with thousands of elderly at Samarth during the last one year including those who we take care of on behalf of their children, helping them stay independently at their own homes, and those who are part of our community and engagement programmes. It has provided several insights, suggesting actions that all of us can take with our parents to help make their lives better and happier.
After the initial feeling of ‘we are all in this together’ when everyone stayed home, there has been a significant change in their psyche. While life slowly moved on for others, their movements were still restricted, and the numbers kept rising every day. Slowly, they felt the virus coming closer into their circles; the news of someone personally known to them battling in the ICU or even worse, hit them hard. The uncertainty, the fears, and the news overload which incessantly kept repeating and showing the doomsday scenarios from around the world only added to their anxiety. This continues, with conversations about the vaccine now. It is a case of their souls seeking help and reassurance that they cannot express; you can sense this and yet feel helpless, being away.
Many seniors who were independently managing their needs, had to rethink as they were advised against stepping out. Those who were already comfortable with technology could easily transition to this ‘new normal’. A few have quickly adapted, while many are still struggling to cope.
What mattered most to people in such situations was healthcare, Convenience services (like food and grocery), Mental Wellbeing and Communication.
The Children’s side of the story
The general notion about India and senior care is a ‘strong family’ foundation. It is assumed that aged parents will be looked after by their children. However, there is an alternate story shaping up by the side, driven by the need of such children whose career has taken them afar. This is the story of so many like us who want to do more to take care of their parents but are constrained. For the children too, this has equally challenging: dealing with the panemic at their own end, stressing about the health and safety of parents – compounded by the sense of helplessness knowing that they will not be able to fly out to help if needed. The thing they needed most was the assurance of someone near their parents, who they and their parents can trust, who is is resourceful and reliable, and who can ensure regular communication between them.
The questions and dilemmas that most children were dealing with, other than emergencies which also we saw many, were generally the same. Here are a few:
- How could you ensure support and care for them even when you are away, and get to know and participate in important aspect of your parents’ life?
- How to ensure they have reliable companions to hold their hands and discuss their needs, make sure their monthly grocery reaches on time, that they do not miss out on their checkups, or get access to a doctor and a hospital in times of an emergency?
- How to facilitate the renewal of their FDs or get an expired license or passport renewed or get the life certificate for continuation of their pension without hassles?
- How could they get their COVID-19 vaccinations done, if need be?
What can you do?
While there are professional organisations like Samarth you can use to provide family quality support to your parents for all their needs, wherever they are in India, based on our experience of caring for elderly in these times, we have listed a few things you can do on your own:
- Stay in touch, Call them – with a fixed routine if possible. If it’s once a week then be consistent. They would be looking forward to that call. If you miss it, they’ll get worried or worse, depressed.
- Picture speaks thousand words – so make it a video call if you can. If they see you, they’ll be happy. You can also see if they are fine.
- Your calls shouldn’t sound like doctor’s call – ‘How is your health’, ‘Did you have medicine’ etc. as that is what they think all the time anyway. Talk about what is happening in your life. Make them part of your life. Tell them about your and your children’s smallest achievement. It will keep them happy and excited for days.
- If one parent is unwell, do not make your calls only about him or her. The parent who is caring also needs care.
- If one parent is unwell, ensure the other one’s life hasn’t come to standstill. Make arrangements so that the other one is able to get away periodically to have some good time away from all of it.
- Don’t give into whatever they say. Keep few important decisions non-negotiable. Agree on a few things, but be firm about support which are crucial, for instance, medical/security.
- Establish an emergency protocol. Know their doctor, nearby hospital, the neighbour who can reach them quickly, where to find medical records etc.
- Do not let single elderly parent be all by themselves. At the minimum, ensure a periodic check-in protocol
If you have a senior who you are taking care of through this pandemic, in-person or remotely, what were your biggest challenges? Are there actions you took and would recommend to others in the community? Our team at Samarth would love to hear from you.