Amid raging second wave of Covid-19, older people struggle with loneliness and anxiety

For Rehana Sarin, 72, her two-bedroom apartment in a Noida skyscraper has been her ‘world’ since her husband passed away 15 years ago, but she has never felt so lonely and isolated as in the months following the coronavirus epidemic.

“I took the vaccine, but I know I am still susceptible to the disease. The way the coronavirus spreads, and given my age, I kind of locked myself in my apartment. Before also, I did not go out. a lot, says Sarin.

Dependent on her neighbors and friends for her groceries, medicines and other needs, she asked: “How long can it go on like this”.

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“My husband left me a two bedroom apartment which has been my world since he passed away. I have a good neighborhood in which I have friends, their children and grandchildren. But I cannot depend on them. all the time for the most part, ”said Sarin, who is feeling more and more anxious by the day as cases increase across the country.

Health Ministry data on Sunday showed a record one-day increase of 2.61,500 cases. Data from Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Budh Nagar district, in which Noida falls, showed 402 new cases on Saturday.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for people like Sarin who live independently and are elderly. Besides being very susceptible to the virus, their old age has also made it difficult for them to move around and socialize, adding to their loneliness and anxiety.

“Although I manage to get essential items, it was the loneliness and anxiety that really bothered me,” said Sarin, who became eligible for the coronavirus vaccination last month after the ministry Health said people aged 45 and over made up about 88 people. percent of all Covid-19 deaths in India, making it the most vulnerable part of society.

The 70-year-old said: “I am not very tech savvy, but I have learned how to buy basic items online.”

However, she said she was concerned that those delivering her order could carry the virus. “Even delivering essential items makes me anxious,” Sarin said.

According to NGOs, around 25 million elderly people live independently in India.

The situation for elderly couples is no different from those who are left alone, and Rajesh Singh, 66, who lives with his wife Sudha, 61, in West Delhi, said: “We have the impression that our life stopped in 2020 ”.

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“We do our best not to go out, and whenever we have to, we take the necessary precautions, but (since last year) it’s been very depressing. After the first wave (of the coronavirus was gone) ), we thought normalcy would return for a while, but now with the second wave there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, ”said Singh, whose children remain overseas.

Sudha said that despite all precautions, she was concerned that they would contract the infection.

“That thought alone has given me sleepless nights. Plus, we’re at such an age that we need regular check-ups, but it has also been very difficult. The coronavirus pandemic makes it feel like we are caught in a never-ending cycle of despair “. she said.

Archana Sinha, 65, a resident of Mayur Vihar in Delhi, said she hardly spoke to anyone.

“It’s after 3-4 days that I’m talking to someone. I’ve been living alone since 2010 but I’ve never felt so lonely,” said Sinha, who has been living alone since her mother passed away.

“Before the coronavirus I had a good support system of friends and neighbors but now we are afraid to meet. We used to talk on the phone but that has also gradually reduced, ”she said.

Sinha said her old age and co-morbidities made her very vulnerable to infection and for this she had been vaccinated.

“But the fear of Covid remains and more, it is the gloom that surrounds it that has been discouraging. We have the impression that people of our age have nothing more to hope for,” she said. declared.

NGOs working with older people have said that many older people, especially those who live alone, have struggled with depression, anxiety and feelings of abandonment since the onset of Covid-19 and that the situation has worsened. worsened during the second wave.

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Himanshu Rath, founding president of the Agewell Foundation, said about 25 million elderly people live alone in India and more of them are widowed women.

Rath said the mental health of the elderly was a bigger issue during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Seniors have invested their whole life in their current life and they feel that now that I am retired and will live comfortably, but now Corona has hit them,” he said.

“They first thought it was happening but now it’s come back big, so now every senior thinks that the world is coming to an end and all their dreams of the last 60-70 years are falling apart, which is leading to feelings of depression, anxiety and abandonment, ”said Rath.

He said another problem is that everyone is now extremely concerned about their children, “thinking about what will happen to them in view of the pandemic”.

“They are also worried about their grandchildren who are very young, so they worry a lot. This applies more strongly to those who live alone, they are more desperate because they have no one to communicate with.” , he said. PTI.

Rohit Prasad, CEO of Helpage, said it was necessary to have a very specific approach towards older people living alone and the government put the system in motion, but the support of the last mile organization is needed. what matters.

“Even during the relief phase of Covid, civil rights organizations came for this connection (last mile). On our helpline we get a lot of calls just to figure it out and the biggest fear is that if something happens who will take care of me, “he said.