Dr. Shankardass is a sociologist and gerontologist by training. Here she talks about the impact of social distancing on older persons during pandemic and the ways to overcome the particular difficulties that this demographic faces in an unprecedented time.
Written by Mala Kapur Shankardass, PhD
78 years old Ramesh Madan approached me few days back for guidance and consoling words as he was a worried man, very concerned about the possibility of being affected by the pandemic due to various co-morbidities he possessed since he had come across a person infected with COVID 19 recently.
He was scared that he will be isolated by his family if he gets diagnosed with the infection and he would not know how to manage his life. I could understand his fears especially when research from different countries is showing special vulnerability of older people compared to other age groups to the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Adults 60 and older, especially those with pre-existing medical conditions, are more likely to have severe — even deadly — coronavirus infection than other age groups. While physical distancing is being advocated for this segment of the population as with other population groups what is imperative is not to social isolate older people as time spent by them with family and friends is precious for their wellbeing.
The concept of social distancing so prevalent in current scenario should not lead to lonely existence which can have negative impacts and be very detrimental to older persons overall health including socio-psychological stability. Physical distancing should not further isolate older people, who at times often lead a lonely life much to their anguish. My interactions with older people reveal their desire for physical presence of a well-wisher which adds to their mental satisfaction. Their desperation for company is so touching for me.
Older persons belong to vulnerable section of society who due to indifference from the family or community may feel isolated. It is important that they remain connected by means of a dialogue with daily service providers, be in touch with a circle of friends, siblings, children and grandchildren. Instances of abuse of older people, is on the rise as per reports from the NGO sector, a very harmful practice which needs to be curbed by people. Lot of my work revolves around making adult children inflicting elder abuse realize their folly and advocate with media, civil society members as well as law enforcement personnel to sternly take action on this account. I find violation of older persons’ right to life of dignity annoying and feel urgent need to intervene and restore their wellbeing.
With many houses of worship being closed to people during the pandemic, older people generally a popular group of congregants, may feel cut off from a pivotal part of their social lives. It becomes vital for caregivers of older people to help their aged loved one access online services and plan outreach programs for spiritual solace and support. Use of technology to communicate or access services to meet essential daily needs is not only handy but becoming need of the hour. Internet facilities, video chats, online purchases etc., makes older persons life more comfortable. Use of apps for conducting financial activities, though have a risk for older people more than for young technologically savvy family members, are becoming essential part of life these days. I also need help in this regard from my children who I am happy to share show patience in guiding with the intricacies of online transactions. We as ageing need to be extra vigilant in meeting our daily needs through internet and online trading since our susceptibility towards fraud and exploitation is much higher not only because of being less aware of financial matters such as dealing with bank transfers, pensions or purchases through technologically aided devices but also because of various kinds of mental and physical disabilities that set in with age.
Older people, in times of the pandemic, need to be occupied for their wellbeing with activities suitable for their age and pertaining to their health conditions. This will keep their physical and mental stability so that depression, anxiety and stress are kept at bay. Physical distancing recommended at the time of the pandemic can play havoc with the emotions and peace of older people. In such times they need special attention, understanding, assistance to cope with daily activities. It is pertinent for family members and care givers to be extra kind, thoughtful and careful in dealing with the needs of older people. I strongly believe that they need protection and safeguarding of their interests, belongings and welfare. Happiness of older people lies in being connected and involved with families and community. It is for the governments and society to realize this and reduce the vulnerability of older people to exploitation and neglect during the pandemic. I try my best to always keep a smile on their face.
About Mala Kapur Shankardass
Mala Kapur Shankardass is a Sociologist, Gerontologist and Health Social Scientist working as Associate Professor, Maitreyi College, South Campus, University of Delhi, New Delhi, India. She consults for UN and other international as well as national organizations in the fields of her specialization. She has authored 4 books on ageing issues and 5 more will be forthcoming in 2021. She has published articles in reputed journals, books, magazines and newspapers. She participates in various conferences/webinars as part of the organizing committee, as Key Note Speaker, Paper Presenter and Chairs sessions too. She is Editorial Board Member of Journal of Adult Protection, Polish Journal of Social Gerontology, Member of Cambridge Scholars Publishing Ltd Editorial Advisory Board and Member of the National Advisory Board of the Journal of the Indian Academy of Geriatrics.
Recently she was recipient of an international award given in recognition of her work and contribution in raising awareness on issues of violence, abuse and neglect of older persons and towards the protection and promotion of human rights of older persons. She is the Asia Representative of the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) and Governing Body Member of Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI), Delhi Chapter. She is also Managing Trustee of an NGO - Development, Welfare and Research Foundation.