As the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) spreads, the elderly appear the most vulnerable. To be sure, young people have got infected, and even got severely sick. But senior citizens, with co-morbidities and compromised immune systems, find it harder to battle the disease.
In India, over 20% of the population is above the age of 60. The elderly lack mobility and economic power as well as access to authentic information about how to keep themselves safe in these times. Given the lack of hospice facilities, the elderly will largely have to be cared for at home. This means that families have to be educated about how to keep older people isolated in order to protect them from infection, not easy in crowded joint family systems. The needs of the elderly are not always a priority as families, indeed society, view them as non-productive, even a burden on an overwhelmed health care system.
The government must be more proactive — by providing a degree of social security for the aged and ensuring mobile geriatric health services. As Kerala is doing, states must examine how provisions and medicines can be delivered at home to the elderly who do not have family support systems. A helpline should be instituted, specifically for the elderly. The National Policy on Older Persons, 1999, prescribes a number of provisions such as monthly stipends, free home health care and palliative care for the aged. These measures could help the elderly tide over the crisis. Covid-19 is a wake-up call. Institute geriatric care systems as the population ages.