Locking down the elderly

Coronavirus. A single word that not only spreads disease and death, but fear, anger, and even panic.  All over the world countries have had to place strict measures in place to try and manage the outbreak of the virus and hopefully curb the spread to save the lives of people.  South Africa is no different.


We are amid an ongoing lockdown of which the rules change from time to time; currently, we are allowed some movement, the economy is partly open, and people have started to return to the workplace. Social gatherings are still not allowed, and the sale of tobacco and alcohol continues to be prohibited.


One of the most noticeable changes in the lockdown regulations currently is the opportunity to see other people. We are allowed to go back to work where we can interact with co-workers, we are allowed to go to a mall and eat at a restaurant, exercise outside of our own homes, attend religious gatherings, and even though it is strictly not allowed - people have friends and family over.


There are, however, some people who are still very isolated from the rest of society, specifically our elderly living in old aged homes and retirement villages.  These institutions are under very strict instructions from the government, and as a result, almost no visitors are allowed to enter these facilities.


According to research and information given by various sources, it is believed that the elderly are at greater risk of contracting the virus and it possibly being fatal.  This is the driving force behind the extreme measures being taken when it comes to the elderly.


Sadly these restrictions are having a negative effect on the mental wellbeing and even physical wellbeing of our elderly.  Being isolated for an extended period with no definitive end in sight is taking its toll.  We are seeing an increase in suicide numbers in these facilities, people who are passing away with family members unable to visit, and general health deteriorating due to the psychological strain isolation in taking on the elderly.


We at Retire At Home understand the need to protect our elderly from a potentially life-threatening virus, and that an outbreak in one of these facilities could be catastrophic.  However, we believe that we need to look after the physical as well as the mental and emotional wellbeing of our elderly. 


There are many ways we can minimise the opportunity for infection while still allowing our elderly to interact with their loved ones and friends. Virtual meetings are a great option for most. Still, it is not always accessible for all. Some are in frail care or even sickbay due to sickness unrelated to Covid-19 and denying them the opportunity to see a loved one is heartbreaking.  Most of these facilities have well-trained care workers and medical staff that can ensure all safety precautions are adhered to if a family member needs to visit a sick patient.  The compulsory wearing of a provided mask and "overcoat",  extreme sanitisation and minimal physical interactions are just some of the precautions that can be taken to make these visits possible.


Ensuring that the residents keep active is vitally important and entirely possible within the rules and restrictions. Interaction in various forms can be extremely beneficial in this time, and it is the responsibility of each facilities management team to explore safe ways to do so.  


The wellbeing of our loved ones rely on our adaptability and willingness to understand the needs that come with the elderly.  Let us look at this time as an opportunity to re-evaluate and learn.  Everyone deserves care and comfort in their old days, let us not deny them this due to current circumstances, but instead look at new ways of making this possible while still taking into consideration the rules and regulations.