Old age is an unavoidable phase that a human being gets to at the later stage of their life. Throughout one’s life, an individual plans and works towards leading a comfortable life post the fulfillment of all of his duties. Due to ageing an individual experiences decline in his health, productivity and performance and as if this wasn’t enough the outbreak of a pandemic disease has had a severe effect on the elder citizens worldwide. Covid-19 has highlighted the vulnerabilities of the ageing population to the emerging diseases.
The current population of India stands at 138 crores based on the Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data. India constitutes to 17.7% of the entire world’s population. With such a dense population it’s inevitable that ageing in India is also exponentially rising. According to a 2017 report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 12.5% of the nation’s population will be of 60 years of age or older by the year 2030 and by the year 2050, this number will rise to cover one-fifth of the entire nation’s population.
While in the process of ageing there is an inevitable decline in the physiological, psychological and sociological aspects of an individual’s life. Upon which an outbreak of a pandemic disease has enhanced the risks and struggles of ageing for an elderly. The Covid-19 disease has affected the elderly population more than the other age groups.
In the society that we live in, everything around us is growing, developing and changing at a rapid rate. This makes it very difficult for the elder citizens to adapt to the dynamic environment. Due to the current situations of Covid-19, there are several basic lifestyle changes that an individual has to adhere to in order to take precautions. Social distancing and lockdown has had a detrimental effect on the older people. Though it is the need of the time and an essential step to be taken as the disease has a greater effect on the elderly. The elderly who were already living a restricted life due to the consequences of ageing, have to now make basic lifestyle changes that have a direct impact on their feelings of loneliness, neglect and depression. Though the lockdown has been deemed an absolute necessity of the time, there aren’t any provisions made for the elderly. There are no provisions made in the lockdown for the elderly who live alone, and it raises a major question as to what happens to those senior citizens who cannot step out to buy essential goods? Without proper transportation facilities how will even those who are able to leave their houses be able to go and fetch the basic necessities (such as medicines, groceries and the like) for themselves? Under the circumstance of contracting the virus the elder citizens who are living alone aren’t equipped with proper amenities (PPE kits, sanitization) nor are assisted or educated enough to proceed in the required manner. The virus is not just threatening the lives and safety of the elderly, but it is also threatening their social networks, their access to health services, jobs and pensions.
Financial insecurity is one of the major existing problems that an elder person in India faces. Their financial status is directly related to their financial independence. During the pandemic and the lockdown this is also a very pressing problem. Needless to say, the situation is even worse for the female elderly. Their social security is in a fix in India due to non-availability of financial protection such as adequate pension and such other schemes which ensure the social security in India. In order to fight this challenge of financial dependence, they start neglecting their health even though they are the most vulnerable to infections.
In view of the pandemic situation, our Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced an ex-gratia amount of ₹1000 for the 3 months to 3 crores widows, senior citizens and differently-abled, as a part of ₹1.7 lakh crores relief package to ease the burden of the lockdown. Prima facie we can state that the amount of ₹1000 is a very meager and inadequate amount, which would be of less to no help in the current scenario. Moreover this amount is given in two installments in the three months, the average of which comes up to ₹333.33 per month and saying this amount is insufficient is an understatement. Amongst the total of 8.6% of the senior citizen’s population 29% of elderly population is residing in the urban areas. Fifty three million older adults live in poverty and are struggling with financial insecurities, inaccessibility of technology, non- availability of essentials and lack of socialization resources. Now the question arises as to whether the financial support provided to the elderly in our nation will be sufficient for them to tackle this pandemic or will it deprive them of leading a life with dignity?
With old age the elderly face various psychological problems. Some may be due to biological changes in their bodies while others are because of the environment that they live in. Psychological problems like dementia, depression, social exclusion, loneliness, phobias and anxieties etc. Mental disorders are highly associated with old age. Moreover due to Covid-19 the psychological vulnerabilities of the elderly are enhanced. The media sensationalism is fueling their distress. The elderly are already aware of the fact that they are the most vulnerable population in the current scenario. Constantly being updated with the news and social media has also resulted in stirring fear, anxiety and panic amongst the elderly. During the lockdown period more than 300 suicides were reported due to mental torment as non-coronavirus deaths. As per the data, 80 people killed themselves because of fear of being infected and loneliness. This evidently puts the elderly at a higher risk of relapse. Examples of a few of the non-coronavirus deaths, which were suicides owed to mental torment- an elderly couple from Punjab decided to end their lives by consumption of poisonous substance due to the fear of Covid-19, the suicide note recovered stated that they are decidedly ending their lives and no one is responsible for it. There were tensions due to coronavirus and they were both sick as well. Another 75 year old adult hanged himself at his residence, and left a note saying coronavirus fear. Mental health is undeniably a fundamental part of public health, more relevant now than ever in cases of the elderly.
Due to the aging process the elderly are prone to several health problems that they may encounter at a later stage of their lives, like visual impairments, hearing impairments, speech impairments, diabetes, joint pains, fatigue, high or low blood pressures, forgetfulness, changes in their physical appearances etc. The elderly owing to co-morbidities and a weaker immune system are more susceptible to infection. Hence the precautions are to be adhered to mainly prevent the virus from being spread to the frail elderly population. Lockdowns and social distancing norms are creating a hurdle for the elder people in obtaining treatment for their underlying illnesses which also increases their probability of being infected. The shortage of personnel in the medical and healthcare sector is disrupting the provision of care and directly impacting the older people and creating further isolation. The elder citizens who are daily wage workers are facing a financial barrier in attaining the required healthcare services. The overburdened hospitals and healthcare institutions are facing difficulties in taking a decision around the usage of the scarce resources. Mental health also constitutes physical health problems. It is essential that the elder citizens being the most vulnerable part of the population be adequately provided for.
Care of the elder citizens of India is considered to be the duty of the family, particularly their children. It’s a nation that romanticizes the notion of filial piety, yet on the contrary, the very same nation has an increasing number of cases of elder neglect and abuse. Verbal abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, sexual abuse, spousal abuse, medication abuse, abandonment or desertion, loss of respect, systemic abuse, scapegoating, domestic violence, are some of the different forms of elder abuse. Additionally, they also lack the awareness about how to lodge a formal complaint. In regard to the coronavirus threat a majority of the elderly are suffering in every aspect of their lives. The elderly need to be provided with help and support in these dire circumstances.
During the period of the lockdown and social distancing, elder abuse and neglect has increased. Since the outbreak of Covid-19 there has been an increase in the rates of violence against women particularly in intimate relationships, worsening during the lockdown where the victim of the abuse is constantly caged up with the perpetrator. Also there is an increase in all kinds of elder abuse viz. emotional, physical, financial and sexual. The elderly are also being isolated and neglected at home, due to their vulnerability to the virus. They are also being forcefully deprived of medical attention due to the fret of contracting the disease.
The struggles of elderly in our nation during the outbreak of a pandemic have increased manifold. There are said to be legal remedies provided and government policies to aid the senior citizens in leading a “decent” life, it still cannot be denied that they are being provided with insufficient and inadequate solutions. The law mandates the senior citizens to receive maintenance by the children or relatives and all the things essential in leading a normal life, but due to Covid-19, the elderly are forced to live in isolation due to the social distancing norm which is undeniably impacting their health in all aspects. The need experienced by older persons of being socially connected in order to avoid the feeling of depression, loneliness and neglect was also overlooked when the decision of a national lockdown was implemented. Though the lockdown and social distancing are the major strategy used against this virus, it’s also to be noted that the isolation has had an adverse effect on the elderly population of our nation. However, it may be argued that even though the law does not address the expected needs of care, it does provide a channel and a therapeutic space for their grievances to be expressed.
Author(s) Name: Mahima Mahajan (Assistant Professor, The NorthCap University, Gurugram)