First a warning. Do not try taking care of your elderly parents or relatives if you have flu-like symptoms. This is the only care that you can take of elderly.
Moving on, every Indian home has elderly people. It is not that the rest of the world doesn’t have elderly but not too many countries are as hugely and densely populated as India. This makes presence of elderly people in Indian homes more common than the most. And, the novel coronavirus has been found to multiply the complications that aging brings to elderly people.
Covid-19 has been found to have been more fatal among elderly people with existing health problems such as those related to lungs, heart, kidney or if they have diabetes or have had cancer and HIV infection.
The government and the World Health Organization (WHO) have identified elderly people as especially vulnerable to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Prevention is better than the cure, they say. And, prevention against the novel coronavirus comes from insulation. One must not get exposed to novel coronavirus.
This is a challenge as novel coronavirus is already here in the air, on the surfaces and human bodies many of which may not show symptoms for days because they are young and have robust immunity. Elderly people may become unsuspecting victims like sitting ducks.
How to protect them?
The guide is simple: follow basic hygiene rules.
Do not visit elderly people if you have novel coronavirus.
Do not visit elderly if you have met someone with exposure to novel coronavirus.
When you do visit elderly people, maintain a one-metre distance. It could be about two to three steps backwards.
Do not forget to wash your hands with a soap. If you cannot get your hands on a soap, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser to clean your hands.
Do not shake hands or embrace elderly people while visiting them.
But what if you are already staying with elderly people?
Make sure you don’t go outside when it is avoidable.
Make sure that you don’t touch any surface outside unless it is absolutely necessary. Novel coronavirus tends to survive longer on certain surfaces and you actually have no idea who laid hands on that surface before you arrived.
Wash your hands with soap on your return home. And, also your face if you have touched it while out. You must have touched your face because a normal person touches her face up to 3000 times a day.
Do not mix your clothes with elderly people. Ensure they use separate bath and hand towels than the rest of the family. It is advisable in these times for every individual to use separate towels. A typical Indian family believes in sharing. The members share common toothpaste, common bathing bar, common towel, common chair or sofa and fight for that one TV remote control. This is the time to let elderly enjoy the luxury of owning a separate of everything that has been common.
Make sure elderly wear freshly washed clothes every time they change. Their clothes must be washed thoroughly with a detergent powder, preferably in a washing machine.
Also ensure that you use dishwasher or liquid dish cleaner and warm water to clean utensils, and dry them up thoroughly.
Sanitise all your doorknobs regularly because you and your elderly housemates would be using them when you go out for some absolutely necessary work.
These steps will reduce the chances of elderly people contracting the disease to the minimum.
But will not it push them in more isolation than what old age usually does? Will not they feel lonelier? Wouldn’t it be like social ostracising?
This is called social distancing. This is required because novel coronavirus is spreading in society. This may aggravate the sense of loneliness among the elderly people but this is what they have in order to bear to see better days ahead.
Fortunately for today’s elderly people technology has advanced much more than the times when previous pandemics hit the world or infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and leprosy wreaked havoc.
Back then isolation meant ostracisation, literally. Now, there are so many mobile apps that bring the world in our palms. They bring people from distant lands much closer than those living under the same roof. But not all elderly people can work these apps. Some cannot even handle touch-screen phones. They need to be trained to use smart phones and social media mobile apps.
In India, celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, who is 77, can be the examples to look up to and learn from on how to interact over social media. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also very active on social media. He is 69. In his address to the nation on Thursday evening, PM Modi emphasised the need to minimise mobility of people particularly those above 60.
Social crisis also brings opportunity for individual learning. This is the time for the elderly to pick up new habits than their routine “walk in the park” and “volunteer community service”. They can be encouraged to start reading stories again. Stories have sustained the world for millennia. Earlier, these were only oral. Now these are written, and available in volumes. Smart phones can come handy again. There are a number of apps that allow reading stories in more languages than any one of us possibly can know. The elderly insulated in homes can read stories in the language of their choice.
If this appears a difficult task to do, close your eyes and think how much you love your elderly. If this is not enough, close your eyes again and think what all they sacrificed during their youth while you were an infant, a toddler and a vulnerable teenager. This is your payback time.
What if they show symptoms being seen among the novel coronavirus patients?
Consult a doctor and report the matter to helpline number given by the government: +91-11-23978046; Toll Free No: 1075.