As we move forward into the new normal, let’s not leave any seniors behind

When a country is faced with adversity such as the one we have been facing with Covid-19, the only way to fight this is together as a country and to not leave people behind. It is through these tough times that we evolve, that our strengths and weaknesses should percolate upwards. As we move forward to a new normal, we must not forget the lessons learned.

During this tough time, our seniors are vulnerable. The majority of deaths in Singapore have been of older people and even as we move out of the circuit breaker, seniors are still asked to stay at home as much as possible.

At the beginning of the circuit breaker, it was tough for some of these seniors, particularly those living alone. There were initiatives that provided them with food, medication and groceries. But no one, including volunteers, were going to their homes to give them companionship, or help them with odds and ends. We are social creatures no matter our age and some of us, more than others, thrive in social settings, but sadly no social gatherings have taken place for around two months.

Different challenges for different seniors

What are these seniors to do? Some have had to evolve and accept the situation. Some have participated in all kinds of online activities – senior groups and activity videos for seniors on Facebook, exercise videos for seniors on YouTube, webinars on keeping healthy, get-togethers on Zoom, and much more.

These are great for seniors who are IT-savvy and can easily access these platforms. These seniors have discovered a new world opening up for them and have adapted.

But keep in mind though that not all seniors are this confident with technology. Just because some seniors may have smartphones doesn’t mean they use all the functions; some of them who have WhatsApp don’t even know how to text!

Then there are those seniors who don’t have smartphones and are still getting by on just a home line. They have no iPads or laptops – things that most of us take for granted. They pay for groceries in cash, and insist on walking out to buy their meals. They are still analogue in a digital world. The situation can then become dire.

Even for myself, in my 50s and living alone, during the circuit breaker, IT was instrumental in helping me get through the day. FaceTime kept me connected with my boyfriend daily and helped my physical and mental well-being.

So this period has highlighted a technological divide between the haves and the have nots – the seniors who are not digitally-inclined and the rest of the world who have made a smooth transition to living and working online. These seniors are literally disconnected from their world. From before the circuit breaker, where they could spend time outside in social groups, to the uneasy times now, where they are often indoors, left alone, watching TV, feeling the walls caving in on them.

Before Covid-19 struck, we would tell seniors to go out – don’t stay at home for long or your mental well-being would be affected. Now we are telling them to stay at home, and it has stretched to several months. When people have too much time, they tend to overthink and complain, so it is understandable some seniors get angry and irritated. If we put ourselves in their shoes, I think some of us would have lost our minds already! So, let’s try to be empathetic.

These seniors have been wishing their days would go by faster, especially those who are disabled. Life isn’t easy for those battling some sort of disability pre-Covid, but it has become even tougher. Even those seniors who were healthy social butterflies pre-Covid – volunteering, meeting with friends, participating in activities – are also suffering. Their schedules have been turned upside down, their days spent at home asking when would they be able to resume their activities.

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Then, there are the caregivers who are seniors themselves. Pre-Covid, they found respite from their caregiving roles by going out and doing activities. They were not able to during the circuit breaker. Worse still, daycare centres have been shut temporarily to prevent the spread of the virus. This is understandable but still it is a blow to these caregivers who are surviving day by day.

I know a senior whose adult children live overseas. She is caring for her husband who struggles with a mental disorder. She can’t get him admitted to a home because he is still lucid and doesn’t want to go. Caring for him, especially during his episodes, has taken a toll on her mental health as he also mentally abuses her, and unlike before, her friends cannot come over to support her.

In such situations, it is vital that the community plays a role in helping these vulnerable individuals. Neighbours, friends and loved ones can do their part to call and check in on them. Ideally, families should take the lead, but that is sadly not always possible due to estrangement or migration. It is important, especially now for someone to be available to reach out to the seniors to show them they are not alone or not left behind.

Let’s not forget seniors in nursing homes too. They have not been able to see their loved ones face-to-face or enjoy the companionship of volunteers. Food can be ordered in but they can’t go out. As we move out of the circuit breaker, I believe there should be more focus on mental health issues, dealing with family violence and abuse, as well as caregiver support for seniors.

Let us continue supporting our seniors post circuit breaker
Image source: Project BUDDY

Outpouring of help

But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I have seen seniors in despair, but I have also seen the immense outpouring of love from the community where people have come together to help these seniors – whether delivering food or making a weekly phone call, which is what Project BUDDY does.

I believe that collaboration is key to bring open-minded people together for a common interest – which is to help those in need.

A good example of collaboration between organisations can be seen with Project BUDDY, where I have worked with ground-up initiative U 3rd Age, received support from the Council for Third Age (C3A) and got referrals from the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC).

Author Helen Keller once said: “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”. I believe that ground-up movements cannot work in isolation. They don’t just need monetary support they need forward-thinking organisations to work together for the betterment of their beneficiaries.

It is important as we move into a new normal, that we show more care for others and not always think of ourselves. Covid-19 remains a challenge for as long as a cure remains elusive.

But what we do know however, is that there is help, and there is hope. We have seen the gaps, learned some tough lessons throughout the circuit breaker and hopefully we can put in place some measures so that nobody gets left behind in the next pandemic.

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