Caring for the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic

Here are six ways that young people can support the elderly during the coronavirus lock-down and social distancing.

Gowri Sundararajan
Madadi Aruna is the oldest SWAVOS volunteer from Telangana. Even at 70 years she attends the meeting at Zilla Parishad.
UNICEF/UNI289542/Narain

17 April 2020

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has brought about unprecedented fear and uncertainty, especially among older adults.

The elderly rely on social connection more than most and they need it now more than ever. The elderly and retired sometimes need a helping hand and they also often need to have people around them. With India practicing a nation-wide lock down and social distancing vulnerable seniors could be feeling more alone than usual.

There are several reasons why the elderly are somewhat more vulnerable - they have more chronic conditions than younger people, their aging immune system makes it harder to fight off diseases, infections and viruses. Recoveries are usually slower and more complicated.

Most of us are worried for our loved ones that are older and living far away from us. They might face anxiety because they live alone, are on a fixed income or pension, no longer drive and cannot take public transport, their routine health checkups are delayed. They could also have un-diagnosed or poorly managed depression. For millions of elderly COVID-19 has amplified their already-existing worries.

Many of us are witness to the above, we either have parents who do not live in the same city as us or we have elderly couples who are neighbors. Here are a few things that young people can do to support the older generation to feel safe and 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 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. Remember: always give it in a disposable container, sanitize the outside of the container by wiping 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?
Medicine
UNICEF India

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 you aren’t going anywhere.

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 and to write kind notes to lift everyone's spirits.
Teaching Technology
UNICEF India

Postpone unnecessary medical visits

  • Help them stay in touch with their doctors if they offer tele-medicine.
  • As much as possible doctors and patients should communicate over 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 to put all important phone numbers in speed dial.
  • Add the COVID-19 emergency helpline numbers to their contacts and speed dial.

Most important of all: inform them that if they develop symptoms such as fever with cough, fever and / or shortness of breath, to call their family doctor, helpline or nearest hospital.

With most of the world under quarantine, unemployment, travel banned and schools closed if you feel afraid don't worry, you’re not alone. It’s easy to let negative thoughts and feelings creep in around the COVID-19 pandemic. Keeping a positive mindset will be the a big support that you can give older adults.