COVID Times: Caring For The Lonely Elderly

The Coronavirus Pandemic has brought about unprecedented fear and uncertainty among all, especially the older adults…

The golden-agers, relying more on social connection, need this support all the more during these testing times. The elderly and retired generally need to have people around them or need a helping hand at times, if not always. With India practicing lockdown [in various states] and social distancing, vulnerable seniors could be feeling more lonely than usual.

Several reasons accounting for their vulnerability are – they have more chronic conditions than younger people, their ageing immune system makes it harder to fight off diseases, infections and viruses, and their recoveries are usually slower and more complicated as compared to the younger population.

Most of us are worried about our older adults that do not live in the same city as us or live far away from us though in the same city, or our elderly neighbours who live alone. They might face anxiety because they live alone, are on a fixed income or pension, drive no longer and cannot take public transport, or their routine health checkups are getting delayed. They could also have undiagnosed or poorly managed depression. COVID-19 seems to have amplified the already-existing worries for millions of elderly.

Here are a few things that we as young people can do to support the older generation to feel safe and stay connected

Social support

  • Check-in on them regularly through phone calls.
  • Send them a message or Whatsapp.
  • Leave a note on their front door just to let them know they aren’t alone, and that someone is thinking about them.
  • Cook something for them and leave it outside their door – ring the bell or let them know in advance that you are delivering a home-cooked meal for them. Make sure to always give it in a disposable container, and sanitize the outside of the container by wiping/spraying with disinfectant.

Run errands

  • Buy them daily essentials like milk, bread, eggs, vegetables, fruit etc.
  • Run to the grocery shop.
  • Ensure their medical supplies are stocked up.
  • Send them a little reminder asking them if they took their medication on time.

Practice social distancing but not social isolation

  • Limit in-person visits.
  • Help them understand the need to practice social distancing to keep them safe.
  • It is tough for older adults who cherish the time spent with friends and family members to  maintain social distancing, so reassure them that they are not alone.

Help them stay connected, feel involved, purposeful and less lonely

  • Show them how to video chat with others using smartphones, laptops or tablets.
  • Encourage them to telephone their friends and family to lift their spirits.

Postpone unnecessary medical visits

  • Help them stay in touch with their doctors if they offer telemedicine.
  • Arrange for communication with their doctors over the video, email or other means rather than face-to-face.

Set up emergency contacts and speed dials

  • Identify one person nearby who they could rely on to care for them in case you are not available or far away.
  • Help them put all important phone numbers on speed dial.
  • Add the COVID-19 emergency helpline numbers to their contacts and speed dial.

Most importantly, instruct them to call their family doctor, helpline or nearest hospital just in case they develop symptoms such as fever with cough or shortness of breath.

With most of the world under quarantine, unemployment, travel bans and schools shut, it’s easy for the negative thoughts and feelings to creep in. Feeling anxious? Don’t worry, you’re not in this alone. Maintaining a positive mindset can be the biggest support you can give to your older, ageing adults…

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