The Covid-19 pandemic overshadows the elderly’s day of celebrations

International Day for Older Persons During Covid-19
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Some of the elderly at the centre participating in an exercise activity before the pandemic. (Ndivhuwo Mukwevho)

On what would have been a day of celebration, some elderly persons find themselves isolated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thursday 1 October marks the International Day for Older Persons. Designated by the United Nations 30 years ago, the day raises awareness about the well-being and needs of the elderly people.

Each year the Denzhe-Lwamutsha Place of Care spends the day gathering with dozens of grannies. Founded in Lwamondo village, outside Thohoyandou, in 2007 the centre takes care of over 150 men and women over the age of sixty. The group runs outreach programmes and activities for rural grandmothers and grandfathers who may be idle after retirement.

“We are very worried that we will not be able to gather and celebrate the day with our grannies like we normally do over the years, says Mercy Mphephu, the centre’s manager. “This year Covid-19 has really affected our programmers and we are sad about that as we have not been able to look and care for our grannies the way we want.”

The risks of Covid-19

Covid-19 poses the worst threat  to the elderly population, says the World Health Organisation (WHO). The elderly face a significant risk if they contract the coronavirus because of potential underlying health conditions and the physiological changes that come with ageing.

Due to social distancing, the elderly who live alone may find they suffer from loneliness and isolation.  The WHO encourages people to stay connected by speaking to loved ones as much as possible, using telephone, video-calls or messaging.

“For the past months we have been doing our best to keep communication going with all our grannies through phone calls,” says Mphephu. “Recently we have started visiting some of them to check how they are doing and to see if they are coping under the new circumstances, we found ourselves under.”

Mental and physical wellbeing of the elderly

“Though we know that keeping grannies at their home is crucial in protecting them from contracting Covid-19, we are worried about their health and well-being. Some of them do not even have people who can look after them at their homes,” she says.

Mphephu worries that without social interaction, the area’s elderly will fall into harmful habits.

“Others might decide to keep themselves busy by drinking traditional beer, which might also lead to negative impacts on their bodies,” says Mphephu. “We are also worried that the grannies have not been exercising for months now.”

Before the pandemic, Denzhe-Lwamutsha offered aerobics and Tshivenda traditional dances such as Tshigombela and Malende. The centre also encourages the elderly to garden. Regular exercise helps prevent non-communicable diseases like diabetes. Physical activity also helps to strengthen the immune system, helping the elderly to fight off disease and infection. – Health-e News


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