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Now is the time to be there for your elders, more than ever

By Dr. Indira Kedlaya, Senior Consultant - Internal Medicine, Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield

The older generation has always been looked at as a wiser generation that has gained years of experience after going through a lot of physical, emotional, and mental instances through life. Old age is also when the person begins to be quite vulnerable and almost gets back to being like a child and hence requires added care and affection. However, while there are cultures that encourage elderly care and respect; there have also been occurrences of mistreatment with the elders around the world.  Elder abuse has been recognized as a global social issue that affects the health and human rights of millions of older persons around the world and deserves attention.

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In the present scenario where the world is battling the novel coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever to care for the elderly population. While it is true that all age groups are at the risk of contracting COVID-19, a significantly higher risk of mortality and severe disease following infection lies with the older persons. Not only that, the pandemic can also lead to downsizing of critical services unrelated to corona and that can further increase the risk to the lives of older people.

Some ways in which the older generation can be affected right now include:

  • While physical distancing is the need of the situation, when it comes to older generations, it is crucial to provide them social support measures and extra emotional care.
  • Physical distancing can very well take a toll on anyone’s mental health, more so on the elderly population if they are not given the right support as they tend to feel neglected and of no value sooner.
  • The situation is more critical for the elderly people because they are already often reliable on others for essential care and this can make them feel as a burden many times or helpless, further affecting their mental health.
  • The virus is a threat for the older generation not only health-wise but also for their social networks and the access to their health services and pensions.
  • If some elderly people are confined away from their loved ones, these prolonged periods of isolations can also severely impact their mental health.

There have been reports highlighting incidents of neglect or ill-treatment with older people. In some places, the quarantine or locked down situation have added higher risks of violence, abuse, and neglect for elders. Some older people who are confined in shelter homes or are homeless and are in informal settlements are more exposed to the risk of the virus with overcrowded conditions and lack of water and sanitization facilities as well as health services.

Thereby it becomes more important to offer careand support emotional as well as physical to the older generation during these testing times. Some ways to do that could be:

  • Create a protective shield for the elders at your home to ensure they are always taken care of and have someone around.
  • Check on them regularly and include them in the family time.
  • Understand their vulnerabilities and needs and take care of their emotional as well as mental health.
  • Educate them about the situation and make them aware so that they are not taken by surprise with any major change of events.
  • Allow them a safe space to address any concerns that they might have and talk to them about the possible solutions from your end.
  • Encourage them towards an inclusive digital environment, help them reconnect too so they don’t feel left out and under-valued.
  • Take care of their physical health as well by ensuring they have access to the right food, medications, rest as well as exercise.
  • While you are caught up with your work and life, help them also to stay occupied.

We are all dealing with critical times due to the pandemic. The uncertainty around health, money, new lifestyle changes and social distancing are all adding to the emotional and mental worries of people irrespective of their age. Hence it is only natural for the older generation to feel anxious and vulnerable, more so due to their condition and their age. Therefore, it is very important that everyone acts responsibly towards the elders at their home as well as those outside and give them the right care and support to help them deal with this unprecedented situation.

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