COVID-19 AND THE ELDERLY

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The lockdown is impacting the old and retiring very badly, writes Theodore Ihenetu
No doubt the lockdown caused by Covid-19 had its adverse effects on individuals in the country and the elderly persons were no left out. Raphe Adultcare Center, a non-profit and charity organization which works for the spiritual, emotional, social welfare of elderly persons in Nigeria since 2014, transforming lives through social services, in their independent survey discovered that a higher percentage of the elderly are among the badly hit by the lockdown.

Over 60 per cent of the elderly persons within the survey group complained of the following: degeneration of relationships with family members, particularly their own children during the lockdown as everyone out of phobia puts on a mask, practice social distancing in a bid to flatten the curve and keep the virus spread at bay;

missing the healing touch of their doctors as they have been unable to meet up with their doctor’s appointments and routine check-up demand which is essential for the elderly; depression due to the fact that the traditional joint family system which was once a predominant living arrangement is fast disappearing as a result of migration, poverty, post seventies ailments, and then Covid-19;

complaints that the lockdown had resulted in them losing their autonomy, self-esteem and even dignity to some extent, as they had to depend on others for their basic needs. These several complaints from the elderly have resulted in them experiencing different levels of fear and other related issues viz: interpersonal relationships souring, leaving many depressed, apprehensive, resentful and socially isolated. It is worthy to note that many older adults have died during this period of total and partial lockdown while many more are afraid to die due to the fear of corpse rejection in morgues, stemming from the overwhelming number of cadavers awaiting discharge and burial; denial or hounding health issues stemming from the fear of being left alone at the hospital or even contracting the virus while outside.

It was equally observed that most older adults will prefer to go out in search of what to eat than run from the corona virus or may in turn fall victim due to hunger. Hunger, suffering and financial dependence of older adults on family members were counted as the primary reason for bitter relations, as some were highly dissatisfied due to the selfish attitude of younger family members. This has resulted in psychological loneliness, unsympathetic relationships, discriminatory behavior and rising frustration levels.

The plight of the elderly person in our country especially at this period can be alleviated if the government can implement the Senior Citizens Centre Bill signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on 26th January, 2018 which provides for the building of senior citizens centre in the Federal Capital Territory and in states that are interested; which will identify the needs of senior citizens and take responsibility for creating recreational, sports, health, educational, counseling and social programs for their benefit, and in situation like this to reach out with palliatives to those who are badly hit by the lockdown. To further make their life stress-free, it would be highly appreciated if their pension allowances are paid regularly in addition to saving them the stress of regular verifications.

Aging as it is has its own challenges and health- related issues ranging from dementia, Alzheimer’s, lack of mobility and blindness which when added to anxiety, sleeplessness, lack of appetite and lack of physical activity as experienced as a result of the lockdown has added to their critical health challenges.

In our bid to alleviate the pains experienced by the elderly during the lockdown some of our activities during this critical period of Covid-19 pandemic included community and church sensitization on the need to support and help elderly persons stay safe; distribution of free face masks and palliatives to cushion the effect of the lockdown on the elderly while our other services include the training that provides care givers and volunteers working in Adult Day Care Centers dementia awareness and care, first aid, health and safety, incontinence care, hydration, food and hygiene, manual handling and palliative care.

Raphe Adultcare Center observed with a sense of pity that older adults find themselves always at the receiving end. Those who are living alone have practical problems, and those who are living with families have psychological issues. Many older adults were susceptible to depression due to lack of assured medical, emotional and financial support, social interaction, lack of independence and self-respect.

It is time for the government to announce packages for the elderly, guaranteed subsidies and loans, waiver for businesses focused on senior citizens, which take care of their food, accommodation and medical needs, as well as set up emergency care units specifically for elderly Covid-19 patients.

It is equally time for religious institutions to be more practical in their preaching and teachings, for financial institutions to make non-investment generous donations; for NGOs to leave the big cities and move down to the rural communities to see the enormity of human suffering and frustration, for the wealthy and philanthropic Nigerians to consider donating to institutions and organization that are directly working for vulnerable groups in Nigeria at this most critical period. Let us go down to meet the poor and needy Nigerians who are looking upwards asking; when will things be normal again?
Rev. Fr. Ihenetu is
Director, Raphe Adultcare Center, UNN