Lockdown takes a toll on senior citizens already vulnerable to coronavirusWhile some are worried about their children abroad, others fear the shutdown will take their life before the virus does.
Ashakaji Shrestha, 75, is a resident of Hadigaun. Every morning, Shrestha and his wife sell milk outside the Bhatbhateni temple until around 7. Shrestha then returns home and stays indoors, only to come out in the evening for a quick walk.
“We wear gloves and masks and use sanitisers frequently, but we are extremely worried about handling money as one can never know how many hands it has passed through,” he told the Post on one of his evening walks.
“I don’t have any pre-existing medical ailments, but my wife has high blood pressure and arthritis,” said Shrestha. “All our customers warn us about coronavirus. But I am more concerned that staying locked up indoors might take our lives before the disease does.”
Senior citizens like Shrestha and his wife have been identified as a demographic group vulnerable to Covid-19. “Given the high chances of preexisting health conditions [among senior citizens] due to a weakened immune system, they fall within a bracket that is highly predisposed to the disease,” said Dr Sandeep Sapkota of Shahid Gangalal National Heart Center. “They are susceptible to viruses that multiply rapidly, leaving them with less chances for recovery.”
Physical distancing is an important step towards protecting the elderly and the lockdown does just that. However, the lockdown has opened a Pandora’s box of challenges for senior citizens.
Urmila Adhikari, 70, and her husband Keshav Adhikari, 78, live in a family of six. When the lockdown was announced, the couple was happy to spend their afternoons with the family. But members of the family, who are home all day, barely spend time with the couple.
“My grandchild is always on his phone or playing games on his computer. My son and daughter-in-law have been working from home and they rarely take breaks,” said Adhikari. “It was lonely when it was just us in the afternoons. Now, even with a house full of people, we are still lonely. Instead of being cared for, we have to look after the children and grandchildren’s well-being all the time,” added her husband.
In our society, the onus of ensuring their parents’ well-being is on the children. But for some parents, their children live abroad and can only provide them money.
Lalita Thapa, 70, lives alone in Battisputali. All of her three children live in the US and send her money every month. She had household helps coming in to help with the chores. But she asked them to not do so after the lockdown upon instructions from her children.
With her son getting laid off from work last week and her daughter giving birth to a baby, it is likely that they will be able to contribute less money to their mother in Nepal than before.
“I spend a lot of money on insulin and other medicines. I have to allocate some budget to pay the helpers since I cannot do all the work on my own,” she said. “ I feel guilty when I make only one child pay for all my expenses, but I am helpless,” she said. “When I read about coronavirus cases in the US, I wished my children were here with me. Sometimes I think about outliving any of them and that brings me great pain.”
Dwindling sources of income for organisations helping senior citizens has also increased their vulnerability to the disease. The old age home in Pashupati is facing such situations due to the epidemic, said Prakash Gautam, director of Ageing Nepal, an organisation that provides training and other forms of support to old age homes across Nepal.
The residents of this facility are senior citizens without any other place to call home. Most of them suffer from chronic illnesses.
Senior citizens in such homes have been deprived of adequate healthcare and sanitation as government-run institutions have limited money. Volunteers and donors who would have provided financial support and other assistance haven’t been able to do so due to the lockdown.
“They are already confined to a tiny area. Now, with minimal social interaction, they feel trapped,” said Gautam. “For those who look forward to meeting their family members, it is disappointing.”
The assisted living facility falls under the purview of the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizen, which is preparing an action plan to ensure the safety and well-being of old ages home throughout the country.
However, financial restraints, especially at provincial levels, pose a huge challenge. “From the center, we can only prepare guidelines and give instructions. When the actual implementation takes place at the local levels, mobilisation of resources is difficult,” said Gyanendra Paudel, spokesperson for the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizen.