Helping the elderly in the time of Covid: From teaching them about Zoom calls to poetry-writing competitions

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas

October 1, 2020 12:20:04 am

Pune has approximately 7 lakh senior citizens, comprising 10 per cent of its population, and there are nearly 30 old age homes across the district. (Representational Image)

At a time when many are at risk of coronavirus disease, especially those above the age of 60, an institution that cares for the elderly free of cost has ensured that none of their 200 inmates have been infected with Covid-19.

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Dr Vinod Shah, chairman of the JanaSeva Foundation, said that at the Foundation’s rural hub at Ambi in Pune district’s Velhe taluka, some can stay at the residential facility at minimal cost while there are at least 100 elderly persons who are destitute. “It was a challenge to convince the caretakers to stay and look after the elderly persons as we could not take the risk of allowing them to step out and then return to the old age home,” said Dr Shah, who is also the vice-president of the Asia Pacific region of the International Federation on Ageing.

October 1 is observed as the International Day of Older Persons and a week-long series of online functions have been organised by the JanaSeva Foundation and other partners to mark the occasion. T Gehlot, Union minister of social justice and empowerment, government of India, will be the chief guest at the inaugural programme on October 1.

Pune has approximately 7 lakh senior citizens, comprising 10 per cent of its population, and there are nearly 30 old age homes across the district.

At the Foundation’s old age home at Ambi, “the elderly are engaged in creative work of their own choice and while it was a tough challenge, we managed to ensure that all of them were occupied with some activity. Social distancing was maintained and proper masks were worn by our senior citizens at the institute,” said Jaydev Naik, a trustee of the Foundation, Naik is also an honorary consultant of the Regional Resource and Training Centre, which is the implementing agency of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, coordinating the functioning of 49 old age care homes across Diu/Daman, Gujarat, Madhya Pranesh and Vidarbha region.


The Foundation also conducted a pilot survey in the city during the lockdown, which revealed that 41 per cent of the elderly population was not comfortable during the lockdown.

There are approximately 190 senior citizen’s associations that are attached to the main Association of Senior Citizens of Pune and executive director, Dilip Pawar, admitted that the elderly population has faced various challenges. “Some live alone and could not get medicines. Others had some source of income but there were no relatives willing to help. We tried our best to reach out to the elderly… we went to their houses, made video calls and connected them to the senior citizens’ wing of the Pune Police Bharosa Cell,” Pawar said.

At the International Longevity Centre, executive director Anjali Raje said the six months of pandemic have been stressful. “We did our best to keep the elderly engaged, taught them how to use zoom calls, involved them in poetry-writing competitions and rolled out videos with medical professionals on how to keep physically and mentally fit,” said Raje.

“During the lockdown, we connected with senior citizens via these associations and asked them to participate in an online poetry competition. The seniors had written about their routine during the lockdown period, how their family members helped them learn a new skill, how mobile phones and computers kept them active, how Google duo and Zoom calls helped maintain their connection with other seniors across states. Few of the senior’s poems even expressed their gratitude for the quality time with their loved ones at home. It was overwhelming to see different shades of thoughts expressed by the seniors for their family members,” said Raje.

Bharosa Cell helpline receives 1,193 calls

At the Bharosa Cell, senior coordinating police officer in-charge of the senior citizens’ wing, Kalpana Jadhav, said that from March till September 25, the helpline received a total of 1,193 calls from senior citizens. “We have registered 220 complaints so far and these mainly pertain to mental harassment of senior citizens and also property related issues,” said Jadhav. “We counsel the family members and try to arrive at some understanding”.

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