Ever since the first reported case of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Wuhan, China on 31st December 2019 and the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring it as a Public Health Emergency of International concern on 30th January 2020, this pandemic has spread to all the countries of the world within a matter of few months.

This COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an unprecedented fear, anxiety and uncertainty among all of us, but especially among the elderly population. The main reason for this is that worldwide major proportion of deaths related to this pandemic is seen in the senior citizens. As of 27th April 2020, India has more than 27,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19. As per the latest data shared by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), elderly people, aged 60 years and above, accounted for 63% of deaths in our country.

Why are the elderly more vulnerable to Coronavirus?

With advancing age, there is a decrease in the physiological as well as functional reserves. Immunity levels decrease with age, which makes the elderly vulnerable to infections. Moreover, many senior citizens also have underlying comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol issues, asthma, cardiac issues, kidney disorders and cognitive impairment, to name a few.

Many elderly also have mobility issues, which decreases their functionality. Some elderly couples are by themselves, with their kids staying in foreign countries. Many are not technologically savvy. This leads to isolation and things become very difficult.

Moreover, recovery from any disease are usually slower and more complicated with severe deconditioning.

What are the symptoms of the disease?

As depicted in this picture, the most common symptoms are fever, easy fatiguability, dry cough and shortness of breath.

But many elderly people can present with atypical symptoms like delirium, altered behaviour or sudden decrease in functionality, to name a few.

A high degree of clinical suspicion should be kept in mind by their treating doctors.

If you are 60 years and above, what can you do to protect yourselves?

The main point to take into consideration is that presently there is neither any vaccine nor any effective treatment available for COVID-19 infection. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to take precautionary measures, which needs a sort of change in behaviour on all of our parts.

Practice social distancing: stay within your house and avoid unnecessary visitors. Avoid going to your building podium/park/roads for a walk. A better alternative is to remain as much actively mobile in the house as possible and do some light exercise or yoga at home. Don’t leave home unless absolutely necessary, request your neighbours to shop for your groceries and medicine refills. The same can be delivered to your place by calling the helpline numbers.

Adequate hygiene practices: follow frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before meals and after using toilet. Avoid frequently touching your face with hands. Ensure use of separate hand towels for the elderly.

Disinfect surfaces: frequently clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, furniture’s and objects like doorknobs, spectacles, hearing aids, walkers or canes.

Seek medical help: if there is persistent fever or cough or breathlessness, then consult with your doctor, preferably on telephone to seek further guidance as to what is to be done. Other option is to visit the hospitals which have dedicated fever clinics to screen your symptoms and triage accordingly.

We all need to remember that even though social distancing is one of the main preventive measures for this infection, social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation.

But due to multifactorial reasons, unfortunately many elderly feel helpless and may go on to develop anxiety or depression. The key to preventing this is communication. Family members need to call or video chat on a regular basis with the senior members. Also, they can be taught on how to use the different social media available.

Caregivers should ensure that the senior citizens are not bed bound most of the times, provide adequate nutrition, clean their wheelchairs and bed pans, effectively communicate with the family.

One of the most useful things that the elderly can do is to avoid constantly watching or reading about news pertaining to coronavirus. This will help to decrease the anxiety and other mood disorders.

This social crisis also brings about an opportunity for learning. Elderly people should be encouraged to develop a new hobby like reading or writing or painting, to name a few.

Many of us have our elderly parents who do not live in the same city as us or we have elderly couples who are our neighbours. A few measures that we, the younger individuals can take or do to support our elderly people to make them feel safe and connected:

  • Check on them regularly through phone calls or whatsapp messages
  • Cook something for them
  • Buy them their daily essentials like milk, vegetables, fruits; if they are not able to
  • Ensure that their medical supplies are well stocked up
  • Show them how to use video chat using mobiles, tablets or laptops, if they don’t know
  • Help them stay in touch with their doctor
  • Setup emergency contacts for them in case of need

We all need to remember that we human beings (homo sapiens) are one of the most resilient species alive on this planet. Ever since our existence, we have experienced some or the other form of tragedy or crisis, but we have always prevailed and our species has flourished beyond expectations.

Sir William Mulock on his 95th birthday gave a phenomenal speech which summarized his life’s philosophy: the best of life is always ahead, always further on.

Henri F. Amiel quoted, “to know how to grow old is a masterwork of wisdom and one of the most difficult chapters in the art of living.”

A few lines from Sadhguru’s latest book Death: An Inside Story comes to My mind in these moments:

People think that death is a tragedy. It is not. People living their entire lives without experiencing life is a tragedy…

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