GS Bhatia, 85, Retired, senior most resident at Gharaunda old age home, Delhi. Photo by: Yasir Iqbal
A study of 72,314 COVID-19 reported cases in mainland China by the country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the case-fatality rate was the highest among those above the age of 80 (14.8%).
At Delhi’s Gharaunda old age home, 30 resident senior citizens sit glued to the television as news of the COVID-19 outbreak in India flashes across the screen. Normally, they would have been watching a film, a TV show or a music channel. But ever since cases of infection started rising in the country, the group now prefers to watch the news, keep themselves updated on the latest state measures and safety guidelines. Everyone here is already suffering from a pre-existing ailment, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension. Some of them are cancer survivors. We don’t invite visitors over anymore, and are keeping our hands clean. We also take homeopathic supplements to keep our immunity up, says G.S. Bhatia, the eldest resident here. He adds that he has learnt so much about hand hygiene and China since the virus broke out. I did not know how big China was before this, he says.
The home has informed everyone that they will take them for hospital treatment free of cost if any flu-like symptoms present themselves. Even if it is not COVID-19, we don’t want to risk them having a cold or flu at this stage. We are also committed to keeping anxiety away; psychological support keeps them strong, explains Pravesh Jain, managing trustee of the home.
According to the World Health Organization, those above the age of 60 or with underlying medical conditions are most at risk of getting the more severe symptoms of COVID-19. In Italy, which has the oldest population in Europe and the second oldest in the world after Japan, the death rate has been the second-highest globally, after mainland China. India has 106 million senior citizens, 65 million of whom are in rural areas. The poor elderly in isolated areas are especially at risk from the virus because of social stigma and lack of awareness. I am above 60, and I am feeling vulnerable myself. Imagine how those in remote villages are going to feel if this disease becomes widespread? They will not have the support one will find in big towns, and because they are old and poor, there is a chance they could be overlooked, says Mathew Cherian, CEO of Helpage India.
In the weeks ahead, psycho-social conditioning is going to be as vital as physical aid. Anxiety is detrimental if we want to battle COVID-19. I know I am most at risk from the virus, but it does not keep me up at night. I still speak to my friends here, says Bhatia. I am cautious, but I have not stopped living.