Posted by Manjari Chaturvedi of Healthy Aging India (HAI), Delhi
“I thought, we will die without food, not due to Coronavirus” said octogenarian Shri Ram Bahadur-ji (name changed), a frail elderly from Sai Vridh Ashram in Delhi while recalling the initial days of lockdown.
With the lockdown, the elderly inmates of many old age homes, known to greet every visitor pleasantly with folded hands, were suddenly impacted and in crisis. Being abandoned in vulnerable years, had largely stripped them of their dignity. The threat of COVID-19 made their position even more pathetic. Living in a charitable old age home is tough due to the chronic physical, mental, and social stress in sunset years of life. The lockdown aggravated these anxieties.
Bahadur-ji starved for two days.
When India went into complete lockdown on 25th March 2020 (initially for three weeks), our first thought was for the elderly people in the old age homes of Delhi and NCR. Dr. Prasun Chatterjee, founder-president of Healthy Aging India (HAI) and a Geriatrician, knew the threat that COVID-19 posed to the high risk group of older adults. He understood the challenge that lay ahead for the neglected group in the margins of society, and got our team to focus on provisioning food.
On 27th March morning, HAI team was able to provide a one-time meal to more than a 1000 persons in Sai Vridhashram, Swarg old age homes and adjoining slums. Shri Bahadur recollects “It was not only assurance of survival, but the meal was like amrit to us”. The timely intervention took care of them and their anxieties.
With the country in lockdown, donations to old age homes had dried up and they faced immediate problems with food. HAI team decided to continue to feed the senior inmates in 10 homes, whom they had been only treating earlier. Further the team went on to enquire about the needs of the residents from time to time. They were given washable cloth masks, dry ration, sanitiser and hygiene kits.
Along with food and requisites, the abandoned old people were provided medical care daily by Dr Pushpa and physiotherapist Dr Neeraj. The to-do list turned out to be long and diverse. It ranged from getting medicines, diapers, and even milk in addition to conveying COVID-19 related health messages.
The crisis for medicines led some elderly, specially with dementia and psychiatric issues, to turn violent and pose danger to people around them. But with timely care and medication, the aggression was checked and treated.
In some cases, crematoriums refused to take in elderly inmates who had died, for fear of COVID-19. Our organisation intervened, enabling the last rites of the departed to be performed with dignity.
Today, Bahadur ji beamingly says – “We are now confident that we will not die without food and medical support. You know, when our own children are not bothered about our survival, the HAI team is doing a great job. God bless them”
Healthy Aging India is a non- profit founded in 2013 to promote physical, mental, and emotional well-being of elderly people and healthy ageing
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