The lockdown has dealt a body blow to the elderly across the country. Even as elderly patients say they are missing the healing touch of their doctor at this time, the lockdown has resulted in deteriorating interpersonal relationships, leaving many depressed, apprehensive and resentful.

More than half (52 per cent) the elderly respondents who participated in a survey claimed their relation with family members, particularly their own children, further declined during the lockdown. Hardly any communication with children at this time, conflict of ego, interests and attitude were cited by the elderly as reasons for the breakdown in relationships.

The survey, conducted by Agewell Foundation, an NGO, had volunteers interacting with 5,000 elderly people on the phone to assess the impact of the lockdown on their lives. Around 55 per cent asserted that the lockdown was affecting their health condition, while 43 per cent said they were undergoing regular pathological check-ups but had to suddenly avoid them due to the social distancing measures.

Agewell Foundation is associated with the UN’s Department of Public Information (UN-DPI-NGO).

While conducting the survey, volunteers observed that a majority of the elderly were depressed due to the new phenomenon, and family ties for many participants were at their lowest ebb.

Financial dependence

While 31 per cent of those surveyed claimed financial dependence of elders on family members as the primary reason for bitter relations, 20 per cent of the elderly claimed they had no space or less space for themselves due to the 24-hour home stay of other family members.

Eleven per cent of the respondents said they were highly dissatisfied due to the selfish attitude of younger family members, while 15 per cent cited neglect of their special needs in old age as the most responsible factor for the disturbed relations with family members.

Interestingly, the survey observed that though a majority of elders (59 per cent) were staying with their family, they still felt psychological loneliness and isolation. The primary reasons cited were neglect by younger family members, unsympathetic relationships, discriminatory behaviour against elderly and overall rising frustration levels.

Loss of dignity

The survey showed 65 per cent of the elderly complaining that the lockdown had resulted in them losing their independence, self-esteem and even dignity to some extent, as they had to depend on others for their basic needs.

During the survey, it was found that 54 per cent were staying with their younger family members (children / grandchildren/other family members etc), while 33 per cent were living with their spouses and 13 per cent were living all alone during the lockdown period.

Anxiety, sleeplessness, lack of appetite and lack of physical activity were termed the most critical health challenges by 34 per cent of the respondents, while 44 per cent said it was access to medicines and physiotherapy.

More than half (54 per cent) of the elderly admitted their social life was disturbed due to the lockdown, while 71 per cent maintained there were fearful of meeting anyone or interacting with anyone these days.

Government support

Himanshu Rath, Founder Chairman of Agewell Foundation, said the elderly were finding themselves at the receiving end. “Those who are living alone have practical problems, and those who are living with families, have psychological issues. Many of the elderly are getting depressed due to lack of assured medical and financial support, social interaction and lack of independence and self-respect,” said Rath, adding it was time for the government to announce packages for the elderly.

These include a helpline, guaranteed subsidies and loans. A GST waiver for businesses focussed on senior citizens, which take care of their food, accommodation and medical needs, would also help, he added.

The government has also been urged to release the second tranche of ₹6,000 assistance under the Kisan Samman Nidhi, as well as set up care facilities specifically for elderly Covid-19 patients. Other measures include setting up special PDS points for the elderly and creating a uniform set of guidelines that can be implemented across the sector that will leverage home healthcare workers to monitor elderly patients.