Offer a silver lining
Being a vulnerable age group more likely to be infected by the coronavirus, it's important to provide senior citizens at home with all the support for their physical and emotional well-being
As per guidelines published by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults (65 years and above) are at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. In fact, research indicates that the elderly, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions such as heart and lung disease, diabetes or cancer, are more likely to have severe infection than any other age group. Accordingly, experts and authorities are strongly urging the elderly to stay at home and avoid all social contact as far as possible. "However, being socially isolated at this difficult time can present a new set of challenges for individuals belonging to this age group," explains Dr Sagar Mundada, psychiatrist at Health Springs.
"Of late, mental health professionals have been receiving an increased number of calls about elderly individuals, especially those already diagnosed with diabetes, experiencing severe panic attacks. The knowledge that they are at increased risk is especially difficult to come to terms with; many are refusing to step out of their rooms and mingle with their families. There is a sense of despair that everything has ended for them," Dr Mundada says.
Amol Deshmukh, founder of MedRabbits, a home healthcare service provider, adds that many elderly individuals, especially those who live alone, are uncertain about how to manage their existing medical needs, such as routine check-ups and testing for existing medical conditions, as well as their everyday routines while minimising social contact. "The elderly are being asked to avoid hospitals and health clinics for fear of exposure. Many are also reliant on visiting help for their daily chores, such as cleaning and shopping for essentials," he says.
All round support
Your attitude towards the pandemic can go a long way in influencing that of an elderly family member at home, says Dr Mundada. While being cut off from their social groups can be difficult for older parents or grandparents, the increased presence of children and grandchildren can benefit their mental health. Additionally, it is important to help alleviate anxiety and provide a secure support system.
Be inclusive: If older members are made to feel like outcasts despite everyone being at home, their feelings of loneliness get stronger, warns Dr Mundada. "Include them in all family activities, be it a game you are playing or even the music you are listening to. Once a day, give them an outlet to discuss their feelings and fears. Don't invalidate their emotions or perceive their anxieties as criticism about the quality of care being provided by you. Instead, hear them out and reassure them of your support," he advises.
Reduce anxiety: Being constantly exposed to news and statistics about the pandemic can take a toll on mental health. While the younger generations may view it more objectively, such updates can create fear and anxiety in the elderly, shares Dr Kersi Chavda, a consultant psychiatrist at PD Hinduja Hospital. "Restrict the number of times your family checks the news to twice a day. Make sure to also watch humorous or other light-hearted content. Resist the urge to keep discussing the pandemic at home. At the same time, educate the elderly about legitimate sources of information so that they don't become inadvertent victims of fake news," he says. Dr Mundada emphasises on discussing any pandemic-related updates that your parents or grandparents receive so that you can help dispel myths and misconceptions. Don't hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional if the anxiety is uncontrollable or is affecting their routine.
Keep it social: Psychologist Priyanka Bajaria recommends using this time to familiarise older members of the family with technology. "Include a 'social contact hour' in their routines when they can call or video call extended family members or their friends," she advises.
Set boundaries: Despite the best of intentions, it can become difficult to coexist with elderly family members who are excessively controlling or critical, says Dr Mundada. With everyone at home all the time, friction can hit the roof, he says. Avoid this by laying down clear guidelines about social conduct within the household. Be firm but compassionate while enforcing the same.
Practicality is key
To ensure that the elderly have access to vital healthcare and daily essentials while also minimising the risk of exposure, experts have these suggestions.
Live-in staff: During the lockdown, it is advisable to have trusted staff live in with the elderly, says Deshmukh. This ensures that senior citizens receive necessary assistance with daily chores such as buying groceries and maintaining general hygiene. Dr Salah Qureshi, MD-Internal Medicine at Axis Hospital, adds that any deliveries received by the elderly should be non-contact and wrapped in paper instead of plastic bags to reduce risk of exposure.
Phone a doctor: The Government of India has recently published telemedicine guidelines for virtual consultations. This ensures that the elderly can seek medical guidance over text as well as video and voice calls. Dr Qureshi adds that doctors are encouraging patients to call them as often as necessary to seek guidance. Physical visits are recommended only for emergencies.
Strict about hygiene: Luke Coutinho, a holistic lifestyle coach at Integrative Medicine, says, "When coming indoors, it is necessary to thoroughly wash your hands, dip your clothes in hot water and bathe before interacting with elderly people. Avoid entering their room directly." He adds that it is important to sanitise commonly touched objects regularly, such as
remote controls, switchboards, doorknobs, handles and spectacles.
Bring the outdoors in: Encourage seniors to expose themselves to morning sunlight in balconies or terraces, says Coutinho. Many online channels are offering yoga classes for senior citizens, he adds. Involve them in non-strenuous daily activities such as chopping and peeling vegetables and fruits.
1 Ensure that the haemoglobin count for the elderly is maintained at healthy levels; low haemoglobin levels can suppress immunity
2 Eat more turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin, black pepper, ghee/coconut oil (in controlled quantities), wheatgrass, pumpkin seeds and tulsi leaves
3 Add foods that boost lung health and clean out the respiratory system. These include oregano, carrots, thyme, fenugreek and pineapple
4 Increase consumption of foods rich in Vitamin C – oranges, lime, lemons and melons
5 Beans, nuts and whole grains are rich in zinc, which helps with immunity, as are seafood, meat and eggs
Inputs by Luke Coutinho and Kajal Bhathena, nutritionist
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