THE SILVERS BATTLE DURING COVID
Indeed, Coviditus has become a boring subject. The trajectory of change in a fast moving technologically advanced world has left us all impoverished both in terms of economy and health. The print media and the electronic media swell with information on spiralling cases and horror stories which are bone chilling. There is no one who can truthfully say that he or she is unaffected. Some of us, are lucky to have roti, kapda and makaan, while the underprivileged battle on bravely, with no light at the end of the tunnel.
My interaction with elders living with our family and growing up watching their age-related problems of mobility, and other health conditions prompted me along with dedicated volunteers to establish UDHAVI 7 years ago, to bring light into the lives of seniors. Unfortunately for the past three months and the various lockdowns, we are unable to function as before, so we have begun to call them regularly and connect them to services which makes them very happy.
Having worked with elders most of my adult life, I know that the lockdown brings in its wake feelings of diffidence, low self-esteem, and an inability to accept the claustrophobic containment, accentuated by the impatience of the younger members of the family. I find that many elders suffer from depression and ask us if they will ever live to see their grandchildren who have flown out of the country to seek greener pastures. The hardest hit are the elders who live alone, with no family within calling distance. Some elders are locked in with a live-in maid.
Outlining ways to bring cheer into a drab life ringing with ominous threats of infection, reaching out to them is bound to improve their outlook and clear their minds of the psychological impact that Covid 19 has brought into their lives. We assure them that as a service group we can connect them to facilities which we are aware of, and that we are only a phone call away should they need help.
Each of us, elders included, should address the new normal and accept it, as life is not going to be the same as it was. When we arise in the morning and we express our gratitude for all that we have been blessed with in this dangerous situation, your mood gets lighter. Bathing, and dressing pleasantly gives you a sense of self confidence when you look at yourself in the mirror. And if you have someone locked in with you that’s all the more reason why you should indulge in good grooming. Many of the women I know have given up the clothes that they normally wear for the comfort of loose nighties as they call them. Why not go in for some smart caftans if you want to wear them? The plaint is no one comes home anyways, what if I remain dowdy? Do we then, dress for others or for ourselves? I confess though I am a hard core saree person, I have given it up during this stressful season, for the simple reason, that I wear only cottons and have to bear with washing, starching and ironing sarees which compounds the load of housework which falls on me..
Even if it is family, proximity and being locked in with them for three months brings in its share of tension, and tempers are on the rise. It makes it worse to have to look at a woman or man with dishevelled overgrown hair or beard, unkempt, and wearing the shabbiest of clothes. I dress for myself, and for my maid! Ridiculous as it may sound, imagine if you were young in your thirties or forties, imprisoned with an elderly woman who looks like something the cat brought in! I wear my kurtas, yes ironed ones, only, I might give a miss to the salwars or churidars and wear lungis instead which are comfortable and smart. We might be setting the new Covid fashions. Never mind if you haven’t had a hair trim in three months, your hair has grown long enough for you to get your hairdresser to give you a new hairstyle once this wretched thing passes.... Oh, for the little hair accessories I used to wear, the protected rubber bands with beads, the ring combs and what not to fasten your fly away hair at the nape of your neck! Did I have to give them all away? How would you foresee that you would be marooned for months at a stretch?
And if you still have the energy to cook, I can tell you it is a wonderful therapy. Getting back to the kitchen after you have had someone to do your basic cooking is not easy, but once you get into the routine you will actually enjoy it. I have friends who are trying out new recipes and posting the pictures on our group. And what is more the men have started cooking! I try out dishes which I haven’t done in years, even if they are a trifle complicated. Since I live alone with a maid, I find I am cooking for her, since I eat very little. Vested interests! I need to pamper her as she is indispensable at this point of time. Her childlike appreciation of my cooking encourages me to do more.
I have accumulated plenty of milk, so my woman Jeeves hinted broadly that she loves kheer. And even if it means having to stand over the stove and boil the litre of milk till it thickens, I mean to do it in a day or two. And since I have an aversion for anything sweet, you know who is going to consume most of it... All for a good cause don’t you think.?
WE ARE JUST A CALL AWAY FOR GUIDANCE, HELP OR SERVICES
+91 76055814, +91 9840092938, +91 9600016186
The subject is binary --- either we can choose to be happy or we can choose to be unhappy - Is there a middle ground as the famous tamiz song says “Silar sirippaar , silar azuvaar, silar siriththuu konde azhugindrar”? (Loosely translated it means “some laugh, some cry, while some laugh while sad/crying internally). The third is a camouflage to hide the pain inside and the poet here must be exercising his/her poetic licence.
Is it a conscious choice or are we programmed by nature to be more inclined to be unhappy/negative? Are emotions a human trait or has mankind ‘presumed’ in its arrogance that feelings and emotions are only for the humans and other lives in creation just “exist” for the pleasure of mankind with no other purpose; there is enough proof to show that animals too experience all the emotions like us. It, however, takes very little to make them happy – food and loving care.
With so much advancement in technology, brain scans etc., it is possible to brain map emotions even of someone who has mastered the art of being poker faced! While conceding there is much happening around us which is disturbing it still remains in the realm of our control how we react to the environment around us, both personal and outside.
Corona and lockdown have given us a lot of time to introspect. What is happening outside - corona spreading so fast and wide with no solution in the immediate future - is very confusing and different from all what we had been used to. There was a certain amount of familiarity and predictability in the world we lived and now suddenly, everything seems shaky. This scenario is causing a lot of anxiety and fear – fear of the unknown. It is a genuine worry about the infection. This uncertainty is of great concern to everyone, especially the elderly.
If we just take a step back and look at the scenario objectively, for many of us life has not changed except that we are confined to our homes. Many of us are financially quite secure and do not have to worry about paying the bills or where the next meal is coming from. All of us are connected to our family and friends over phones and emails. There is plenty of entertainment on the TV, YouTube, radio and books. There is enough time to catch up on the long postponed “to do list” – clearing the clutter, calling up old friends, trying our hands at new hobbies and catch up on reading.
Yet, the mind keeps going to the distress outside over which we have absolutely no say or control. May be the lockdown should be seen as an opportunity for us to open the doors of our minds, to accept this reality, for this too will pass. As the famous Serenity prayer says,
God, Grant me the
Intelligence to change the things I can,
Courage to accept the things I cannot change,
And Wisdom to know the difference,
This prayer is not only profound but also loaded with common sense. Let us laugh and spend time with our family and friends. Let us take one day at a time; cherish and be grateful for all what we have. To be happy is a choice we can make consciously.
When does one become an icon – difficult to say but as a general rule I think when there are some outstanding qualities worth emulating. I believe you don’t have to be a famous personality, be in media focus or be extraordinarily accomplished to be an icon. We just need to look among people who are in our circle of acquaintance to find them. Little do we realise that a life well lived with integrity, enthusiasm and character is in itself an accomplishment. It sounds very easy but many of us know it takes a lot of balanced approach to achieve it.
Rajam, Renuka and I had this very inspirational meeting with our beneficiary Mr. Venkateswarn, who will celebrate his 100th birthday next year. Visiting him at his residence was a study on how one should live life not only when young but also with advancing age. He has seamlessly moved from the world of the twenties of the 20th century to the nearing twenties of the 21st century with ease and grace. His father had the courage to move to Bombay, now Mumbai, in the 1930s from Kerala for better education and opportunities. Mr. Venkateswaran did not disappoint. After completing his B.Com he took up a job but pursued his studies by attending evening classes to obtain M.Com degree. In his fifties he obtained his Ph.D. He carefully nurtured his passion for writing poetry even when his job took him out of the shores of our country. They have been published in some international journals. He also found time to be associated with cultural organisations.
Now living alone, he continues to write poems and keep a diary of his life to share with his grandchildren in the US. This prompted us to ask how he keeps in touch with them; he stunned us by revealing that he learnt computers in his eighties. Born in an age when computers were also “being born”, he has managed to keep himself abreast of the fast changing technology.
It was impressive to see him in good health but for the constraints of advancing age, and a very pleasant and warm disposition. During our stay for over an hour we were amazed to note that he had not voiced any complaints about his health or otherwise. He exuded the contentment and peace of someone who had seen and accepted life as it comes. That to me was the making of an icon.
Financial Planning for the elderly and by the elderly
Routinely a number of articles appear in newspapers and magazines about the problems of the elderly. They usually focus on the various illnesses that plague them or the loneliness and depression they face. We do not see too many articles on their finance. We are not talking about saving for the future but about handling the existing finance to take care of their needs during their life time.
According to a survey, the healthy life span of an Indian male has gone up from 56 years in 1990 to 65.16 in 2013 and that of women from 60 to 68.5 during the same period. Assuming they live another 10 to 15 years more, we are talking about an aging population in the age group 75 to 85. Women outlive their spouse by about 10 to 15 years. So that brings us to the big question – are these women equipped to handle their finances? In the present scenario, many of these elderly live and manage on their own. Even presuming their children give a helping hand, it is essential that these women know where they stand with regard to their finances. Women in general and in India in particular (especially in the age group we are talking about), leave all financial matter to the men in the family. There is a possibility that this can lead to unexpected unpleasant situations with the children. So it is better that women do not shy away from taking responsibility for their money matters – YES, MONEY MATTERS!
So what does an elderly couple do? It is essential that they sit together and discuss the finance and have a complete up-to-date record of all their investments in an accessible place– moveable and immovable - the sources of their income, bank accounts in joint names or as either/survivor, nomination given in all their investments, jewelleries listed and a proper Will, in place. Ideally all wealth must be in both their names and inherited by their children only after their life time. This is not any negative reflection on the children but a safeguard against things going wrong.
Age also brings with it memory loss and certain confusion while discharging everyday work. The children should keep an eye on the way their parent/s handle everyday life, without being aggressively dominating or intrusive. They must step in to handle the issue with sensitivity while all the time ensuring that the help is welcome and in good spirit. They must keep them involved but remove their burden. It is in everybody’s interest to be practical and systematic in dealing with this sensitive issue of finance.
India is greying and the average lifespan increased. According to a 2013 report by the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) India has around 100 million elders at present, and is likely to shoot up to 323 million contributing to about 20 % of the population by 2050. The Government would be well advised to start framing policies for elder care right now. Formerly the elders lived with the family and the youngsters deemed it their responsibility to look after them till the very end.
Living as we do in nuclear families, the children are no longer held responsible for their parents future, who are often left to their own devices for survival. The need of the moment is elder care, and organisations have sprung up to meet the need, but, being new to the situation, efficiency and overall planning leaves much to be desired. Retirement homes are cloaked with “decent” names.. no longer Old People’s Homes which conjures up images of poverty stricken, deserted old people. Some of the communities offer high end homes with every possible convenience you can think of. The NRI children feel less guilty about leaving their parents behind, especially if they are funding the luxuries for them.
Moving into retirement homes is not always the answer. While creature comforts are provided, some don’t favour the perpetual company of other old people who always discuss their aches and pains and other complaints. It is undoubtedly true that younger people entering our lives bring in fresh perspectives, laughter and new experiences, and do rejuvenate older people. As a plus point, there are more geriatric doctors today, and the traditional GP is making a comeback in a different avatar. House visits are possible, so also home nursing facilities. Recovery is faster in a familiar environment rather than be confined to the hospitals where the white coats and antiseptic smells drive fear into most people.
If a longer lifespan is made possible, it is vital that the quality of life should be improved, and just because one is old, it does not mean relegating the ills and discomfort to the backburner, ignoring them as part of the travails of old age. Few of us realise that the old people need to be treasured, and their contributions in various fields remembered. For some of them the knowledge and the experience is still intact, and the younger ones can to a large extent harness the rich fund of knowledge.
True, we live in a turbo charged age, where computerisation has hastened results, with a press of a button. Few have the patience to listen to an older person offer his advice and experience at a pace that only he or she is used to. It is the impatience that upsets the elders, and the lack of time the children spend with their parents.
Depression is very common in old age. It stems from mostly loneliness, a sense of not belonging and scant self worth, that they have outlived their usefulness to society and to the family coupled with a sense of guilt for being alive and causing strain on their children. It is hard when a man who has been breadwinner makes the transition from a full blown productive career to total retirement. Financial stability is threatened further when chronic health problems set in, and the medical bills mount despite insurance claims. Further some of them lose a spouse or dear friends, and they do become conscious of their own mortality. When depression sets in so deeply the seniors let go of their lives, and this situation morphs into various physical ailments which are often fatal.
While these sort of depressive moods can be lightened by persons who visit or family, depression can grow into clinical depression which is serious and has to be treated by trained psychologists and in some severe cases psychiatrists who will decide if appropriate medication can be given. Medication might address the symptom but will not uncover the reasons deep down in the recesses of the mind. Counselling helps to a large extent, and sometimes prolonged treatment is necessary.
Some of the signs to look for would be persistent sadness, diminished interest in everyday activities, fatigue, insomnia, lack of appetite, difficulty in concentrating, lack of memory, excessive crying for the slightest reason, and physical symptoms which don’t respond to treatment. This can to a large extent, be lessened with professional help.
With the number of elders on the increase concerted attempts should be made to help them out. In India we have never thought of old age or disability as something to be addressed. Shopping means climbing stairs, and if there is no lift very few shops have side rails to hold on to. Buses are difficult to mount, pavements are suicidal for older people to walk on them. Houses are not older people friendly with split levels and lack of grab rails in places like bathrooms. Wheel chairs are a must in public places, and it is gratifying today to see wheelchairs in every mall.
Some families are so protective of their aged parents that they just clamp down on their independence. They cannot visit friends or relatives because “they might feel tired” they are not allowed to pursue their interests, since these interests might call for transport, or certain kind of material to be purchased and so on. An active woman even in her eighties can be allowed to do what she likes doing in the kitchen provided someone keeps a vigilant eye. Don’t strip them of the simple pleasures of life. Hold hands, keep smiling with the old and the infirm and it is a rewarding experience!
The writer is Founder Chairperson of UDHAVI…care for the elderly. She may be contacted at email@example.com
Saying "Yesterday' s seventy is today's fifty or sixty " Dr. Sridhar Vaitheeswaran brought a lot of cheer to the elders attending a program organised by UDHAVI, an NGO focussing on elder care, and catering to the primary needs of the senior citizens.. Dr. Sridhar is trained in Old Age Psychiatry in Scotland, a specialist in Urban Mental Health Needs and currently Head of the Department of Dementia care in SCARF.
Dr. Sridhar during his talk at Hotel Keys Kattima said that longer life expectancy and nuclear family norms, brings in its own challenges - the old have to look after themselves without much family support. Alzheimers, Parkinson, Dementia, Depression, and mainly loneliness and isolation are becoming increasingly evident coupled with the financial aspect.
The number of senior citizens in India alone is expected to be over three hundred and forty million by the year 2050. A certain amount of slowing down and loss of memory is inevitable with ageing but that should not come in the way of leading a normal life. Dr. Sridhar said that now we have medication for many of these illnesses and with early intervention they can be arrested before they get worse.
Dr. Sridhar emphasised the need for appropriate exercise and keeping the brain active, by learning new skills,which enables one to age gracefully. There is no need for despair or feeling that you are in the brink of impending calamity.
"Loneliness is a major challenge for the elderly," said Sabita Radhakrishna, Founder Chairperson of UDHAVI. She said it was rewarding to see the change UDHAVI has been able to bring in the lives of those elders with whom they have interacted. "Our volunteers and I look forward to more elders taking help from us" she said. “We are there to look into needs and stave off loneliness.”
The elders present had an interesting inter-active session at the end of the program when they were able to voice their concerns and anxieties. Their queries were answered by the doctor.