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Limpopo grannies struggle with the isolation life under the Covid-19 lockdown

International Day for Older Persons During Covid-19
Written by Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

In lockdown for over a year, Limpopo grannies have not been able to gather for regular exercises, access healthy meals nor medical check-ups, showing the isolating effects of the pandemic on the elderly.

For over a year, a group of Limpopo grannies and grandpas has remained isolated during the pandemic, missing out on the physical and emotional wellbeing provided by elderly care services.

“It is a very challenging time for our grannies as they have not been able to come and gather at the centre for about a year now,” said Avhapfani Muhanelwa, manager of Tshilidzini Society for the Care of the Aged. “We are now worried about their well-being and health as they were used to activities we offer such as regular exercises, so it means they have not had any form of exercise for about a year now.

The centre in Tshisaulu village outside Thohoyandou has more than one hundred elderly over the age of 60 registered on their books. Before lockdown restrictions, they used to gather at the centre from 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday.

They were provided with healthy meals, exercise, medical check-ups for chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and educational talks on how to take good care of themselves at home. Established in 1984, the centre provided an alternative to drinking alcohol as a past-time in a region with few programmes for the elderly.

Lockdown level 1

“Some of them have been calling us in the past months since we moved to level one restrictions of the lockdown, inquiring about when they can be allowed to come back to the centre as they are bored at home and that they missed to socialise with others,” said Muhanelwa.

The centre has to respect COVID-19 regulations, said the manager, particularly to protect the elderly who are more vulnerable to infection. Still, Muhanelwa worries that the lockdown measures will indirectly impact the grannies and grandpas’ health.

“We are aware that for some of the grannies, the only healthy meals they used to get was the ones we offer them at the centre and now as they are spending most of their times at home they might not be getting any as they have no one to look after them at home,” she said.

“Our other biggest fear is that they might go back to indulging in traditional beer, which might have a negative impact on their health as activities at the centre used to keep them busy all the times but as the activities are not there at the moment, they might seek other alternatives to keep themselves busy such as drinking traditional beer,” said Muhanelwa.

A healthy lifestyle involves eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and managing day-to-day stress, according to the Stroke and Heart Foundation South Africa. Moderation is advised when drinking alcohol.

Instilling life and hope

Tacia Mukwevho, who manages the Denzhe-Lwamutsha Place of Care in Lwamondo, says she has also fielded calls from the elderly community who want to return to their pre-pandemic routines.

“We continue to receive phone calls from some of them asking us on when they can be allowed to come back to the centre as they are bored at home but we are also not sure as we are still waiting for a go ahead from the provincial department of social development,” said Mukwevho.

In the meantime, the centre has purchased protective equipment such as sanitisers and face masks to prepare for reopening. The Denzhe-Lwamutsha centre looks after 170 grannies, providing support and activities.

“The activities we were offering them before the pandemic used to instil life and hope into their lives as they also used to have enough time to socialise with each other while they were here,” said Mukwevho.

Living in isolation

For 72-year-old Anna Sigida, the pandemic has brought isolation.

“Being with others used to help me forget about other problems in life and we used to talk and advise each other about serious life matters but now as we are unable to gather, life has become more difficult for me,” said Sigida, who attends the Denzhe-Lwamutsha centre.

The World Health Organisation has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the daily lives of the elderly.

“Older people are being challenged by requirements to spend more time at home, lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, temporary cessation of employment and other activities, and anxiety and fear of illness and death-their own and others,” said WHO.

The Limpopo Department of Social Development, which funds the centres, did not respond to queries about why the centres have not reopened despite an ease of lockdown restrictions.—Health-e News

About the author

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.