The coronavirus pandemic has not left any age group unscathed. But while its repercussions have been felt on practically all areas of human existence, the crisis particularly highlighted the need to provide a constructive solution to the daily challenges faced by our elderly population.
As India drives its research to unlock the senior-care market, I bring to you the second of the ‘Sector Series’ on the elderly. Now, before we go into detail of how this age group is grappling and fighting against this deadly virus, it’s important to know how India and the rest of the world define the very term ‘elderly.
The definition of an elderly person varies across countries. While in most developed countries, an adult of age 65 years and above is considered elderly, the threshold is 60 and above for Nepal. The discourse around the coronavirus among the elderly is primarily due to their decreased immunity and co-existence of co-morbidities.
According to the data provided by the Centre for Disease Control in the United States, approximately 25% deaths in India have constituted the 55 and above age group. The worrying factor is that their mortality and morbidity were not dependent solely on the direct effects of the virus, but also on measures such as social distancing, travel restrictions and self-isolation, all of which have a disproportionate effect on healthcare access.
Although asking this very age group to self-isolate counts as the most effective coronavirus prevention technique, issues related to physical living arrangements can make social distancing difficult in this country. Presently, around 87% of the elderly population in India live with their children, unambiguously looping in a higher risk of contracting the infection.
Living with an extended family may allow the elderly to access healthcare services, but also leaves them vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment. On the other hand, loneliness looms on the other 17 million who do not reside with their extended family. Grappling with food accessibility, water and basic services adds to their already existing pain.
A recent online survey done by the NGO Agewell Foundation revealed scary revelations with around 71% of the correspondents reporting an increase in elder abuse, the most common ways being disrespect, verbal abuse, silent treatment, ignoring their daily needs, denying proper food and medical support, financial cheating and forcing them to work.
Internet connectivity continues to play a pivotal role when it comes to navigating social distancing restrictions, and maintaining healthcare access and important information. Only 7% of the elderly in this country possess smartphones. Further, low literacy rate within this section of population limits their access to technology and crucial health-related information.
Data has also hinted at mismanagement of communicable diseases that are leading to psychological illnesses among adults. Since outpatient treatment of almost all major non-communicable diseases has been terribly affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic, medical check-ups have become rare; this has undoubtedly showed up in the mortality and morbidity rates among the aged.
To add to the dismay, the uncertain nature of the economic work of the elderly and decreased or inadequate salaries implies that more than 80% people in the workforce are, in some way or the other, dependent. The government, in its first Covid relief package, had announced a one-off payment of Rs 1,000 and an increase in the pension for senior citizens as well as widows. Sadly, this catered to only 20% of the elderly population. No relief packages have been announced so far for the second wave.
It has been starkly observed that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to the creation of a negative atmosphere around this age group, who are also being termed as a soft target of this deadly virus. As a consequence, older people are not only facing social restrictions, but also family negligence and avoidance. Not being able to go on long walks or discuss their worries with their friends or relatives has affected their mental health adversely.
A more inclusive and holistic care approach is needed for the elderly as the present systems of care has practically been failing not only in India, but across the world. Healthcare schemes such as Ayushman Bharat should roll out special provisions for the elderly and mobile home-based healthcare check-ups should be fixed.
India, we need to stand up in support of the same.
Note: The article was originally published here.