COVID-19: Spare a thought for the elderly in your community

An elderly woman wearing a protective facemask sits with other patients coming to the outdoor patient department (OPD) for an awareness event about the COVID-19 coronavirus and other airborne diseases at the Siliguri District Government hospital in Siliguri on February 21, 2020. (Photo by DIPTENDU DUTTA / AFP) (Photo by DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP via Getty Images)

Last evening, on a desperate run to the grocery store for dishwashing soap, I saw an elderly man, masked and all, stocking a large bunch of supplies into his car. He quickly completed the task, got in and drove off. There was a definitive fear in his eyes, and it made me sad. I wondered if there was anyone back home, someone younger to take care of him, or cook his meals, or do daily chores. 

In this piece, I spoke about our responsibility to our community, our maids, servants, drivers, local shopkeepers who earn their living on daily wages. But as I experienced this encounter with the elderly man last night, and then saw this post (below) written by a senior ex-colleague on Facebook, I wondered if we as a society have even given this a second thought: How can we help our elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic?

See the post that my colleague wrote:

Let’s look at some numbers:  

More than 2 lakh people in 170 countries have been infected and most of the 8,000 deaths recorded around the world have been people who are elderly or suffer from other conditions.

Dr Vikram Jindal in his eye-opening post in, writes:

Locking down the country of a billion from outside will not be enough now. Neither will be tracking each case as it comes. We have the virus in good enough circulation nationally.

Save the old from young, not the young from outsiders. Minimize the contact of elders; people above sixty should not meet below 40 in any case — separate rooms and bathrooms in houses. A national campaign can be run to keep them isolated.

Read the entire article, here.

So the question is, are you aware of any elderly person who lives alone, who would require help in your community? 

How can we help?

  • By identifying elderly people who live alone in our neighbourhoods and societies. Their children could be living in other cities, or worse, in other countries. Educate them about being in isolation during this time.

  • Ask if they need help. Volunteer to pick up their groceries, buy their monthly medicines, or just give them a word of hope and encouragement. But please maintain safe distance for their good.

  • Let them know what they need to do — including washing and sanitising of hands, phones, tabletops, door handles, bags etc to the best of their abilities. Also, drinking warm water.

  • Give them the latest information and what they need to do in case they see some symptoms. This includes numbers they can call in case of an emergency.

  • Pray for the elderly in your family and in India at large. We all know India is a young country, but our elders are precious and irreplaceable. 

It is wise to note that reality is far more complicated than just picking up groceries for an elderly neighbour and objective is not to oversimplify these serious and heartbreaking truths. But our role in society has to transcend past the my-family-and-I mindset. And this is a step in that direction.