Protecting elderly from the perils of pandemic

Senior citizens are most vulnerable during Covid-19. So, how should we protect them and yet not leave them lonely and alone? We talk to health experts to find a healthy way out.

Senior citizens, especially those with pre-existing health c o n d it i o n s i n c l u d i n g high blood pressure and diabetes, among others, come under vulnerable demographic in terms of contracting Covid-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said, “Older age and underlying conditions increase the risk for severe infection.” However, social distancing is not the only cause of concern for them as many are also fighting loneliness, anxiety, restricted mobility and financial issues.

The mortality, as well as manifestation of more severe infection, is more common in elderly people, probably due to their decreased immunity and body reserves. Moreover, patients with co-morbid conditions are more susceptible to succumb to the disease. Covid-19 lockdown can prove to be stressful for the older population as they are not able to venture out, socialise and keep up to their daily routine. Many seniors affirm they are finding it difficult to adjust to the “new normal” but are coping up with the stress by trying to look at the brighter side. During this time, it becomes even more crucial to take care of the elderly in the family.

“Elders should maintain a healthy diet and must have proper sleep. They may continue their daily routine and may even meditate or perform mild exercise or Yoga. They should maintain good hygiene and social distance of at least 1 metre from others. Avoid meeting visitors but in unavoidable cases, do maintain a distance of a minimum of six feet,” suggests Dr Sandeep Nayar, Senior Director and Head, BLK Centre for Chest & Respiratory Diseases, BLK Super Specialty Hospital.

Psychologist Kavita Yadav informs that old people struggle with feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, restlessness, loss of interest in routine activities, mood swings and so on. She adds that in this pandemic, senior people are the most worried as they get to hear all the time that they are most vulnerable to get affected by it. So, they need to be encouraged to pursue their hobbies or to build a new one. They should keep their body moving depending on their health condition.

The panic of Covid-19 has adversely affected the physical and mental health of older adults in India. Even the first three Indians who died of Covid-19 were older people. Family members of older people should encourage them to stay positive and ensure that they should not be left alone. Somebody capable of caring for them should always be around and talk to them. “At home, seniors can be engaged in activities such as organising religious activities for them over video calls with relatives and keeping them engaged in yoga and mindfulness sessions. Involve them in gardening, cooking and discussing their life experiences will help them keep negative thoughts away. Allow them to do what they want as over possessiveness can be suffocating sometimes” says Dr Pankaj Gupta, Expert in Wellness, IIHMR University.

Dr Vishal Sehgal, Medical Director, Portea Medical, also points out, “Lack of social support, limitations with regard to carrying out their daily chores, inability to go for check-ups and more, during this period, is causing anxiety and stress among senior people. They crave attention all the time and not just during the pandemic. This makes it imperative to create a positive environment for them. In order to allay these concerns, there are teleconsultation services available today through which senior citizens can get in touch with doctors and consult them from time to time. We have homecare personnel who can talk to them, discuss and try to address their concerns and feelings during this isolation period.

 “ Meanwhile, for the seniors living alone, several companies are providing elder care in India such as Alserv, Milkbasket, Ajatus, 247around, Goodhands Seniorcare and StoreSe. Through Alserv app or website elderly living alone can get necessities delivered at their doorstep. Another startup, Milkbasket has launched a ‘Senior Citizens Grocery helpline’ for hassle-free delivery of groceries and other essentials from the comfort of their homes. “The local police should be directed to take responsibility for the health and welfare of the citizens. There should be a team of DC or their representatives, IG of the state, government counsellor (advocate) and districtwise sub-division with SHOs and representatives of BHP along with a team of three-four policemen officers should make surprise visits to check wrongful doings which will help in curbing further spread of Corona. Nobody has involved Senior Medical officers of the district,” says Major General Biraj Guha (Retd) who keeps himself fit with routine exercises.

In the times of Coronavirus, it is crucial to stay active to improve immunity. Practicing Yoga can help in achieving it since it combines both physical and mental activities. Daily 30 to 40 minutes of stretching and relaxing body muscles through ‘Yogasanas’ to release endorphins which reduces stress. Yoga Trainer Dr A. Aradhana Ghyas, who specializes in elderly, says that although making old people practice yoga comes with its own challenges and requires patience and consistency. “During the online classes, I make them do specific yoga asanas with focus on breathing and also pranayama. I also keep contra-indication in mind which cannot be done when elderly practice yoga watching YouTube videos. It can be dangerous. One should mix love with Yoga and see the magic of it in terms of increased immunity and uplifted mood,” she adds.

“Shavasan, Yog Nidra, deep and long breathing, Anulom Vilom, Kapal Bhati, Bhramri and meditation provide mental relaxation, tranquillity and sound sleep. Regular practice of these asanas along with Pranayama and meditation improves the respiratory system, prevents cartilage and joint breakdowns, keeps allergies and viruses at bay, boosts immunity, makes life happier, improves the nervous system and generates self-confidence. I am 85 years old and a regular practitioner of Yoga because of which doing daily chores without any support is easy,” says Sharat Chandra Agarwal.

 In addition, by making changes in dietary preferences, Covid-19 can be avoided easily as well. Paramita Singh, Nutritionist cum Yoga Practitioner says that some of the most helpful ammo in this fight against Coronavirus are in kitchen such as turmeric, vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables, zinc rich food (eggs, lentils, oatmeal, mushrooms and nuts) and garlic. Staying positive is also a choice. “I chant ‘Gayatri Mantra’ as it gives me peace and calms me down when I get overwhelmed. Also, light exercises and consuming immunityboosting and fibre-rich fruits and vegetables such as amla and lemon along with basil leaves, honey and coconut water are part of my daily routine. I have regular discussions with my friends for a dose of positive energy,” says Rachna Varshney.