While we were always talking about how to tackle climate change and pollution and grumbling about no time to spend with family, God just decided he had enough. He decided to step in and here we are. A deadly virus locked down the world and disrupted our lives in such a way that it will probably take us years and years to recover from it. Economy, livelihood and the very freedom of living life was snatched from us and we lost loved ones in 2020 and 2021. No one was ever prepared for this onslaught. With this came a pandemic of human sufferings. Thousands of families, including daily wage earners, senior citizens, widows, transgenders, migrant workers, old age homes and orphanages residents, etc, were impacted. But then when we face a situation with helpless times of distress, we not only find ourselves, but humanity comes alive and we actually became truly ‘human’ with small act of kindness. In this very frightening environment, there emerged #CovidHeroes who stepped out of their comfort zones to help others without worrying about their own safety. One such Unsung Heroes of Covid Pandemic is Sailesh Mishra of Silver Innings.
People found new strengths and qualities, they never knew they possessed and the deadliest virus that took lives also gave back our lives to live anew. In a long time people stopped to smell the flowers, as they say. However, in all the good, there is something we seemed to have side stepped. The importance of the impact the virus had on seniors, which cannot be understated. It is at this stage, that most seniors actually required more care and support but sadly, it did not happen. It has affected their psychology, physical strength, behavioral patterns and they have become quite unstable and unsure of themselves.
Impact on Seniors
The COVID-19 pandemic caused untold fear and suffering for seniors across the world. As the virus spread rapidly to developing countries, the death rate for seniors also rose rapidly. Health care was denied for conditions unrelated to COVID-19 as the case rose. Seniors, especially those with medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer became more likely to contract the virus. Neglect and abuse in elder care facilities impacted their well-being and mental health.
The first wave of #Covid came suddenly and with the hasty lockdown and no proper guidelines, it was all was trial and error. When a national lockdown was declared, the citizens, especially senior citizens who were already suffering with other illness or co-morbidity were asked to stay at home and not step out. Daily walks, exercise routines, access to doctor, health care, medicine, food, recreation, caregivers, housekeeping was suddenly stopped. The pandemic impacted the health of seniors living on their own, that of seniors whose children were settled abroad and even of those living with their families in different ways. Misinformation and negative news added to the panic. To add to this, was the uncertainty and fear that they might not be fit enough to travel or perhaps never be able to travel abroad or within the country, to see their children in the near future. As time passed, restriction in movement, communication problems and social distancing lead to social isolation, not just with seniors, but every member of the family. Children, who were used to their space began to feel suffocated working from home and it impacted their interaction with their parents too. Everyone was head down into mobiles or laptops and even talking to seniors about their daily routine went missing. With no entertainment or physical interaction, the atmosphere at home was affected and in some cases finances, work pressures and stress in the family became issues.
The good part was that many organisations started virtual socializing and online events to keep seniors from being completely isolated while in lockdown. Some taught them skills like handling finance, making video calls while some created on-line contests. This helped a great deal in lessening the feeling of isolation and disconnect. However, living in urban India, most of us tend to forget about those seniors living in rural India, who have also been affected by the pandemic and social distancing norms. Workers have migrated back to their home towns and this has led to an increased risk of exposure to the virus among rural communities. There is lack of awareness, low levels of nutrition, ill-equipped and insufficient public health centers too. Worst was the impact on women of all ages trapped at home with abusive husbands and their drinking problems.
But where there are problems, there are also people who find the solutions. #CovidHeroes, such as Actor, Sonu Sood helped migrant workers of all ages, to reach homes and even arranged foods and shelters for those stuck in the lockdown. Closer to home is my friend and inspiration, Sailesh Mishra, Founder, Silver Innings, who has been tirelessly helping seniors living alone at home and seniors at his own resident’s home, since the first wave of the virus struck. Another friend, Dipesh Tank, a Mumbai-based anti-trafficking activist, distributed reflectors to stick on the backs of migrants to ensure their safety as they walked home on the highways. How can we even forget those unsung #CovidHeroes who went out of the way to help seniors and others, find oxygen cylinders, hospital beds and provided them medicines, provisions, etc? These heroes restored our faith in humanity each day during the darkest hours of the pandemic, despite the several challenges faced.
Challenges faced by seniors
Sailesh Mishra adds ‘Seniors are socially vulnerable and the lockdown brought with it a whole lot of other problems, such as insomnia, depression and those not directly related to the pandemic. Some of the notable challenges’ :
Efforts to protect the mental and physical health of seniors as also that of health workers, caregivers, volunteers and community leaders became difficult. Mental health took back seat.
Everything was sudden and unsystematic with no proper protocol or guidelines. There was a complete lack of coordination between different authorities from the Police to Municipality to Medical health workers, Health care professionals and so on.
With no public transport and restriction on movement, the caregivers and care partners could not attend to seniors. No one was available for home care.
Caregivers, medical professionals and nurses were unable to attend to the seniors as housing societies refused entry. Societies acted tough and did not allow people to visit, or home deliver grocery, medicine, food etc.
Seniors who spent evenings on the garden bench with their peers felt disconnected and at a loss.
Family members with person with Dementia and disability at their home faced challenging times.
Physiological changes that come with ageing and other health conditions spiraled and reports of increase in Elder Abuse began to do the rounds.
Single and seniors living on their own suffered most especially as they faced challenges to use Digital media.
In rural India, the non-availability of transport, medical aid, food, absence of family members and even loss of employment and ignorance and myths around the pandemic and its transmission, affected the mental health of the seniors in remote parts of the country.
Misinformation, co morbidity, shortage and accessibility of the vaccination drive took time to get resolved, but by then many had already suffered at the hands of the virus.
Way Forward Learnings as suggested by Sailesh Mishra Team Silver Innings
Social distancing should not result in social disengagement, in any way
Create disaster management plans for times like the pandemic, especially for seniors with special focus on food, clothing, shelter, health care, recreation, livelihood, security and rehabilitation with dignity
Make old age care as ‘Essential Services’ in the manifesto
Create a national single point contact center for seniors with a mental care helpline and outbound calls to understand their needs and well-being.
Identify, understand and resolve the challenges currently faced by seniors, not just in urban areas but in rural areas of the country too.
Involve NGO’s, educational institutes, relevant authorities, etc. and create a university course on old age care with special SOP for Dementia and mental health.
Involve local communities and societies to take care of seniors in their areas.
Youth with new technology and seniors with their experience, need to work together to create a better inclusive environment for all. Protecting senior citizens rights will help them to lead dignified, secure lives, as equal members of society will enable them to be treated with respect on an equal basis with younger people. Providing care and comfort to enable them lead a healthy life without worries and anxiety is their right. Ageing cannot be prevented and everyone grows old. We do not need another pandemic to teach us how to deal with the well being of our seniors.