Maintain social distance: But don’t isolate elders

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People often don’t realise that they are abusing their elders or are being abused. Because of the pandemic, people are obligated to stay in-doors. Spending continuous hours with the same people might give rise to annoyance, especially if one does not have a good relationship with one’s kin, thus, increasing the risk of abuse for the dependent population, mainly elders

Sampson From March 24 to July 22, 2020, the first COVID-19 lockdown in Nepal was put into effect by the government, following rising concerns about the physical and mental health of everyone.

With the increase in cases after reopening, the second round of lockdown was imposed from August 20, although restrictions were eased within the Kathmandu Valley from September 10.

The start of the pandemic has led to the risks of older adults being socially isolated or abused due to social distancing, which is one of the main preventive measures against the coronavirus suggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO). As of November 30, there have been a total of 233,452 confirmed COV- ID-19 cases and 1,508 deaths, with 214,521 recoveries.

During the lockdown, as per the analysis of data from Ageing Nepal by Bihani Social Venture, elder abuse cases increased more than threefold from August to October, with neglect or unidentified dead bodies found contributing to the maximum.

[Pre-COVID cases – 34 (Nov 2019 – Mar 2020), lockdown cases – 84 (Apr 2020 – July 2020) and 75 cases (Aug 2020 – Oct 2020). Total cases after the start of the pandemic – 159 (Apr 2020 – Oct 2020)].

People often don’t realise that they are abusing their elders or are being abused.

A simple action like demanding parents to buy you something comes under financial abuse. Because of the pandemic, people are obligated to stay in-doors. Spending continuous hours with the same people might give rise to annoyance, especially if one does not have a good relationship with one’s kin, thus, increasing the risk of abuse for the dependent population, mainly elders.

More than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly onefourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Older adults are at increased risk of loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, loss of family or friends, chronic illness and hearing loss.

Social isolation was associated with about a 50 per cent increased risk of dementia and other serious medical conditions as per the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although self-distancing is important, it is imperative to ensure that it does not lead to isolation, especially of those living on their own.

As per the National Institute on Ageing (US Department of Health and Human Services), “Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.” Let us not forget our parents and elders while maintaining social distance. Older adults, not just within our family but also within our community or neighbourhood, need to be attended to to ensure their overall well-being.

Simple gestures such as having a conversation or a meal together with our parents and family members have become a luxury for most of us – not because we do not want to, but because we get caught up with work or other engagements. This pandemic has provided many of us with the chance to stay and work from home, with ample opportunities for us to connect with our families.

It is important that we learn to interact and maintain as much social connectedness not just with others but with ourselves as well to avoid getting isolated or isolating our loved ones. Maintaining a good relationship and communicating effectively can help elders maintain self-esteem, along with strengthening the relationship among family members.

At the end of the day, all of want to be loved, feel worthy and capable.

Social isolation and loneliness can create higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions.

The following interventions targeted towards health and overall well-being, especially during the pandemic, is recommended: Digital inclusion initiatives to provide a support system to elders for not only sharing knowledge, but also as a platform for interaction; mutual aid support providing essentials, medication and food items; and maintaining regular social contact through phone calls and social media. You can keep in touch with your loved ones through email, social media, texting and voice messages, voice calls, video conferencing and playing online games.

Even if it is not possible to be physically present while dealing with older adults, it is critical to ensure that we address the issues of loneliness, dependency and loss of confidence due to retirement, relocation, health status or family member’s migration or busy lifestyle through social engagement activities.

Platforms should be created where elders can contribute their skills and expertise through relevant linkages and have them participate in activities physically or online.

Ageist stereotypes must be addressed and awareness created about the changing demographics, with a positive outlook on active ageing, to promote age-friendly communities that are supportive, welcoming and inclusive We have been told multiple times during the pandemic not to take things such as frequent handwashing with soap and use of masks lightly. Besides these measures, it is important to keep yourself healthy by helping or supporting others; understanding the importance of a healthy diet and keeping physically active; engaging in activities, such as a hobby; getting enough sleep to rejuvenate your body and for a fresh mind; and monitoring your sugar and blood pressure levels. And do not hesitate to consult your doctor.

Rana and Sampson are with Bihani Social Venture working to foster age and disability inclusive communities with focus on older adults


A version of this article appears in print on December 02, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.


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