COVID-19 and Challenges of Elderly People

by Rajkumar Singh - 23 April, 2020, 12:00 3994 Views 0 Comment

There’s a direct correlation between mortality and age and if we are  60 to 69, the mortality rate is at 3.6 percent. At 70 to 79, it’s 8 percent. And if we are  80 or above, it’s 15 percent. But in some cases, it’s even higher, at 18 percent. The elderly are more likely to get acute respiratory distress syndrome, the acute lung injury that is causing many of the deaths. But it is clear that the virus is also more likely to affect the heart than any similar viruses, so they’re actually seeing people dying from heart attacks who have COVID-19. As countries are affected by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the elderly population will soon be told to self-isolate for a very long time. This attempt to shield the over-70s, and thereby protect over-burdened health systems, comes as worldwide countries enforce lockdowns, curfews, and social isolation to mitigate the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Self-isolation will disproportionately affect elderly individuals whose only social contact is out of the home, such as at day-care venues, community centres, and places of worship. Those who do not have close family or friends, and rely on the support of voluntary services or social care, could be placed at additional risk, along with those who are already lonely, isolated, or secluded. Isolating the elderly might reduce transmission, which is most important to delay the peak in cases, and minimise the spread to high-risk groups. However, adherence to isolation strategies is likely to decrease over time. This effect will be felt greatest in more disadvantaged and marginalised populations, which should be urgently targeted for the implementation of preventive strategies.

Challenges of aged people in COVID-19

There are both physical and social reasons. Older people don’t have as strong an immune system so they are more vulnerable to infectious disease. They’re also more likely to have conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or kidney disease, which weaken their body’s ability to fight infectious disease. The elderly might also have isolation or mobility challenges. So because they’re isolated, they can’t get information about what to do, or they’re not able to get the food they need if stores are out of stock and things become more difficult. In many societies, seniors are more likely to live in poverty, which makes it more difficult for them to get the things they need and to take care of themselves. Poverty presents a whole range of challenges pertaining to health. The main message is that people really just need to change their behaviour for two to three months. They’re not being asked to socially isolate themselves forever.  As of now, researchers know that the new coronavirus is spread through droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets generally do not travel more than a few feet, and they fall to the ground (or onto surfaces) in a few seconds — this is why social and physical distancing is effective in preventing the spread.

Moving on, every Indian home has elderly people. It is not that the rest of the world doesn’t have the elderly but not too many countries are as hugely and densely populated as India. This makes the presence of elderly people in Indian homes more common than the most. And, the novel coronavirus has been found to multiply the complications that aging brings to elderly people. COVID-19 has been found to have been more fatal among elderly people with existing health problems such as those related to lungs, heart, kidney or if they have diabetes or have had cancer and HIV infection. The government and the World Health Organization (WHO) have identified elderly people as especially vulnerable to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Prevention is better than a cure.  And, prevention against the novel coronavirus comes from insulation. This is a challenge as novel coronavirus is already here in the air, on the surfaces and human bodies many of which may not show symptoms for days because they are young and have robust immunity. Elderly people may become unsuspecting victims like sitting ducks.

Relative Protective Methods

In the context, we should follow the basic hygiene roles: (a.) Do not visit elderly people if you have novel coronavirus (b.) Do not visit the elderly if you have met someone with exposure to novel coronavirus (c.) When we do visit elderly people, maintain a one-meter distance. It could be about two to three steps backward (d.) Do not forget to wash our hands with soap. If we cannot get our hands on a soap, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser to clean our hands (e.)  Do not shake hands or embrace elderly people while visiting them. But in case we already staying with elderly people we ought to follow (a.) Make sure we don’t go outside when it is avoidable (b.) Make sure that we don’t touch any surface outside unless it is absolutely necessary. Novel coronavirus tends to survive longer on certain surfaces and we actually have no idea who laid hands on that surface before we arrived (c.) Wash our hands with soap when returning home. And, also our face if we have touched it while out. We must have touched our face because a normal person touches her face up to 3000 times a day (d.) Do not mix your clothes with elderly people. Ensure they use separate bath and hand towels than the rest of the family. It is advisable in these times for every individual to use separate towels. A typical Indian family believes in sharing. The members share common toothpaste, common bathing bar, common towel, common chair or sofa and fight for that one TV remote control. This is the time to let the elderly enjoy the luxury of owning a separate of everything that has been common(e.) Make sure the elderly wear freshly washed clothes every time they change. Their clothes must be washed thoroughly with detergent powder, preferably in a washing machine. Also ensure that we use dishwasher or liquid dish cleanser and warm water to clean utensils, and dry them up thoroughly.

Ensure Social Distancing, Not Isolating

This phase is called social distancing. This is required because novel coronavirus is spreading in society. This may aggravate the sense of loneliness among the elderly people but this is what they have in order to bear to see better days ahead. Fortunately for today’s elderly people technology has advanced much more than the times when previous pandemics hit the world or infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and leprosy wreaked havoc. Now, there are so many mobile apps that bring the world in our palms. They bring people from distant lands much closer than those living under the same roof. The social crisis also brings opportunities for individual learning. This is the time for the elderly to pick up new habits than their routine “walk in the park” and “volunteer community service”. They can be encouraged to start reading stories again. Stories have sustained the world for millennia. Earlier, these were only oral. Now, these are written, and available in volumes. Smartphones can come handy again. There are a number of apps that allow reading stories in more languages.

Rajkumar Singh
Author is Professor and Head, University Department of Political Science, B. N. Mandal University, Madhepura, Bihar, India. He can be reached at

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