“Sometimes they just want someone to hear them out. They do not, mostly in such cases, ask what they should do. It is just that they want someone to listen to them,” says an executive with the state government’s helpline number for senior citizens.
The toll-free 14567 number which provides information, guidance, and emotional support to senior citizens across Telangana has witnessed almost double the number of usual grievance calls per day since the imposition of lockdown. In the last 47 days, it has received over 8,000 calls at an average of 170 calls per day. On certain days, the number of calls has gone past 500, too. Pre-lockdown, the average number of calls per day used to stay around 70.
The ongoing COVID-induced-lockdown has forced the elderly into a scenario they knew would come someday but not so soon. The feeling of helplessness in the absence of near and dear ones, coupled with anxiety caused by the lockdown, has only been on the rise as a complete return to normalcy is out of sight. The category of ‘senior citizens’ has further alienated them as they are the most vulnerable to the infection.
With their grown-up children settled in different parts of the world, many elderly citizens who were otherwise used to their self-sufficient lives, are now finding it difficult. The absence of their domestic helps has only made the problem worse for many of them.
“The lockdown is a crucial time for the elderly, especially if they are deprived of help at home. We get a lot of calls from panicky elders. They feel stuck at home, unable to carry out routine activities. The emotional support is most important at this hour,” adds the call-centre executive who says the helpline is available between 8 am and 7 pm every day.
For instance, 74-year-old Venkateswarlu, who retired from the Indian Airlines, lives with his 103-year-old mother in Begumpet, Hyderabad, while his son and family live in Tamil Nadu. Ask him about life in the lockdown, he smiles and hopes for it to be lifted soon. “It is very difficult. Even to go out and buy my mother’s ear drops, it is very difficult. People like me who depend on public transport are suffering in this lockdown,” he adds. Purchases and payments through online platforms, he says, are out of bounds for him.
The call centre ‘14567’ is run by the Tata Trusts, through Vijayavahini Charitable Foundation (VCF), in partnership with the Department of Senior Citizens, Government of Telangana. Started in April 2019, 11 executives are available to answer calls between 8 am and 7 pm. Under four broad categories — information, guidance, emotional support, and support against abuse — it offers 30 services.
Apart from conversing and counseling the elderly, it provides information on medical and diagnostic facilities, elder-friendly products, old-age homes, etc. The guidance aspect involves support to victims of abuse and educating them on the provisions of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, whereas the emotional support aspect involves facilitating phone counseling and professional in-person counseling too. The last pertains to the rescue of abandoned elderly and admitting them into old-age homes.
“Post lockdown, most calls have been related to need for assistance where we facilitated the delivery of essentials like medicines, groceries, and green groceries, etc, and connecting them with delivery channels such that they receive their needs,” said a spokesperson of the Tata Trusts. “Some senior citizens are also seeking passes for their caregivers, and families. With support from the Government of Telangana, and the police department, the Helpline is trying to get such passes,” he added.
According to him, of the total calls during the lockdown as many as 1700 required field intervention and support. These were the cases of abandoned elderly persons found on the streets and admitted into old-age homes. Also, 300 callers sought emotional counselling and support.
B Shailaja, the director of the state Department of Welfare of Disabled and Senior Citizens, said as an initiative during the lockdown, the department identified old age homes across the state and connected them with CSR programmes of companies and NGOs, including the Telangana Social Impact Group, Abhaya Foundation, Youngistan Foundation and Live Life Foundations, etc. “We have been supplying rice, wheat, pulses, oil, spices, soaps, and sanitisers to around 95 old age homes in Telangana, 35 of them in Hyderabad. Since it has been over a month of lockdown, we are planning the second phase now,” she said.
Prof Meena Hariharan, the Director of Centre for Health Psychology, at the University of Hyderabad, says the lockdown has had its impact on everyone and the elderly are the most vulnerable victims of the circumstances. In her opinion, the lockdown affects the senior citizens in two different aspects resulting in similar problems. One, due to their personal health concerns and the other, due to the anxiety developed by worrying about the children in foreign countries. Anxiety and insomnia or sleeplessness is among the common complaints from the elderly these days, she says.
The professor, who heads a group of health psychologists and mental health workers who have come together to initiate SERV (Support for Emotional Rehabilitation of the Virus Victims), a 24×7 call centre available at 9985010680, says that COVID-19 pandemic has also shown how much people, including neighbours and friends, care for their senior citizens.
According to her, it is because Indian culture is collectivistic and affiliation-oriented and not individualistic and achievement-oriented like in Western cultures that elderly people are not subjected to the problems as seen in foreign countries. “We look around and seeking or offering support is very well integrated into our culture. In India, the informal support system is so well built and has stood as a protective shield. There might have been cases where the elderly felt the pinch, but if only any social support agent came to know, they would have helped,” adds the professor.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines