The current Covid-19 pandemic is a serious crisis faced by all of us in the history of our generation. There are lots of uncertainty and fear looming around us. The transparency and freedom of media is adding to the problem particularly from perspective of a common man who is swayed by news of horror and death stories caused by the pandemic. We are today in the midst of second wave of pandemic, which is much more serious and severe compared to the first one and there are no immediate signs of abatement.
Special signs of worry for senior citizens:
The problem is more serious for senior citizens. There are obvious reasons for the same. They are physically weaker. Mentally also they may not be as strong as the younger people. They have stopped or reduced meeting people or walking or exercising in open or going to senior citizen clubs. All these add to the problem particularly for seniors who leave alone and surrounded by all types of negative floating news. Our interaction with groups of senior citizens shows same story in different parts of the country.
Categorisation of senior citizens:
To analyse the problem more precisely, it is necessary to categorise senior citizens in terms of two important parameters:
a. Physical strength (High or Low): High means elderly people who are in good physical health, keep themselves busy through an active life style of daily exercise, walks and good nutritious food. They may have some age-related comorbidities like hypertension or diabetes but these are under control through proper medication. Low means elderly people who are physically not mobile (serious arthritis or serious disease like cancer, etc.) or are less physically active.
b. Mental strength (High or Low): Elderly people with high mental strength means people with strong cognitive / mental faculty. They are emotionally stable and are cool / calm even in adverse circumstances. On the contrary, elderly with low mental strength are people who are mentally weak, fearful, unstable and not balanced in their cognitive / mental faculties. They may not be suffering from mental illness; but they are fearful by nature.
Based on the above, senior citizens can be categorized under four quadrants:
Category 1: Elderly with high physical strength and high mental strength- These people can face as well as manage adverse circumstances with minimum external support. They are the elderly people who are strong in all faculties and can manage difficulties of pandemic through their own efforts.
Category 2: Elderly with low physical strength and high mental strength- These are elderly who are not physically strong or are suffering from some disease but mentally tough and balanced. Since many of the things rest at mind, they can manage to counter any problem within constraints of physical difficulties with minimum external intervention.
Category 3: Elderly with high physical strength and low mental strength- These are the elderly who are physically fit but mentally weak and fearful. They are susceptible to a difficult situation like pandemic and mentally not able to counter pressure.
Category 4: Elderly with low physical strength and low mental strength: These are the elderly who are weak on both the fronts and most vulnerable.
Coping strategies to counter fear:
The above categorization implies that elderly falling in categories 1 and 2 can fight their own battle with minimum external support. However, elderly who are in categories 3 and 4 require maximum attention as they represent most vulnerable section. Primary reason is that they lack mental sturdiness required to fight adversity. It is the duty of families, senior citizen communities, counsellors and others involved in welfare of senior citizens to identify elderly in the categories 3 and 4 in their proximity. They remain tense and anxious. Many elderly people in categories 3 and 4 are living alone, staying in isolation or in senior citizen homes. Management of senior citizen homes thus have to play a significant role in identification of these elderly and help fight the mental battle against Covid-19. Spending time with such elderly people, talking nice things that keep them happy, getting them vaccinated and making them courageous will go a long way in helping these needy elderly people. We should ensure that they are away from negative news and are in touch with beauties of life / nature through music or books. Some senior citizen groups have stopped circulating news about Corona in their own WhatsApp groups. Idea is not to circulate negative thoughts and imbibe positive ideas amidst elderly enabling them to fight Corona at a mental level. That’s half the battle won!!
Dr A K Sen Gupta is Co-Founder and Chief Trustee of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 9821128103.