Christina Fernandes, who lives in Dubai, sought help for her sister, who was admitted to Goa Medical College (GMC) with Covid-19 and severe pneumonia. Fernandes’ appeal was amplified by netizens and local volunteer groups. “She needs to be in ICU due to her severity, but they have kept her in a general ward. No one is really attending to the ward she is in. There is a nurse that just comes and gives some medicines, we don’t even know what they’re giving,” said Fernandes in a social media post.
The senior community in Goa find themselves increasingly isolated and slipping through the cracks of the state’s health care system till it is too late. Living alone, with most of their relatives in other states or abroad, senior citizens are struggling not just to step out to get vaccinated, but to also get medical treatment on time for Covid-19 symptoms while their distraught kin living overseas find themselves making frantic calls from across the world, appealing to volunteer networks and on social media for help.
Not only are older people more at risk of severe effects of Covid-19, they also face added challenges in terms of isolation and mental health. The World Health Organisation has warned that older people across the world continue to be “challenged” by requirements to stay at home, lack of physical contact with friends and family, and anxiety over illness and death. Volunteers say that ex-pats are feeling increasingly helpless and worried about their aging parents and relatives who are in Goa. One such volunteer who has stepped in to help the elderly is Runa Aggarwal, a resident of Panaji.
Older adults are especially vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – with higher risks of severe complications and death, and potentially greater difficulties accessing care and adapting to technologies such as telemedicine. There’s also a concern that isolation during the pandemic could be more difficult for older individuals, which could exacerbate existing mental health conditions. Information gathered over the past several months suggests a much more nuanced picture, however.
Resilience may reflect an interaction among internal factors – such as an individual’s stress response, cognitive capacity, personality traits, and physical health – and external resources like social connections and financial stability. For older adults experiencing isolation during the pandemic, having more meaningful relationships seems to be more important than having more interactions with others, and maintaining these relationships may require the use of technology to connect with loved ones.
Resilience can be supported through increased physical activity, enhanced compassion and emotional regulation, and greater social connectivity. Technology can play an important role in achieving these. “It can help maintain social connections, provide access to care via telemedicine, and also facilitate a range of other activities that may help cope with isolation,” said Vahia. “It is increasingly becoming important for clinicians to assess patients’ access and proficiency with technology as a part of care.”
We get WhatsApp calls every day from the Gulf region, UK, Germany, and other parts of Europe, and all the calls are for help for Covid positive patients who are alone here in Goa,” said Aggarwal. In many cases, the elderly start developing symptoms, but with no family members to help them access Covid-19 testing, treatment gets delayed. By the time the information finds its way to volunteer groups and NGOs, the elderly are already in respiratory distress and need to be hospitalized.
“I have seen a lot of elderly people in the hospital who have nobody to take care of them. Sometimes all the family members are infected, and there is no one to take care of them,” said activist Rama Kankonkar. Kankonkar has been using mini-ambulances and other vehicles to ferry patients, including senior citizens, to GMC. While ambulances are in short supply, even those ambulances that arrive refuse to take elderly citizens who do not have any kin to accompany them. The 108 ambulances also can’t drop patients back home, so the elderly often have to rely on other people’s kindness to return home.