One problem most children face is convincing their aged or ageing parents to accept help from people other than family. This is especially relevant for those who live outside the country and are always concerned about how their parents are coping on their own with all the children busy with their own lives in other cities or abroad.
I know that when I lived in Dubai my thoughts were constantly on my dad who was back home. I was lucky in the sense that a couple of siblings were there for him but I could sense his loneliness whenever I spoke to him. But now that families are smaller and the kids have flown the coop, parents have to learn to deal with day-to-day crises. And in this pandemic, their children cannot fly home to solve their problems. This was brought home to me when I heard about an elderly widow struggling to cope as her live-in maid had to leave suddenly due to illness in her family. Somehow moving to a retirement home is anathema to most people here, both old and young alike. The former see it as abandonment while the young feel a sense of guilt.
This lady was desperate for help as she knew her children who were settled abroad would not be able to visit her due to flight restrictions. A friend of her daughter was asked to look out for food caterers and when that friend provided her with some contact numbers, she expressed helplessness and wanted to know if the friend could talk to the caterers.
India has a population of 103 million senior citizens according to Census 2011, which is projected to reach 175 million by 2025. Accordingly, companies are expanding their services beyond specialised medical care to providing companionship, among others. Some companies also handle final rites and paperwork in the event of a death and the inability of children to attend the funeral in these times of Covid.
Some parents have surprised their children with a video call initiated by them, thanks to help from “sakhis” or companions from elderly care service providers. One such provider, Sakhi4life, also helps the elderly with filing of income tax returns and getting a vaccine appointment. Another such service provider organises events such as entertainment programmes including singalongs and quizzes through Zoom meetings. This is a boon for those who have had to give up their daily walks which afforded a chance to meet friends as well as note the changes in their surroundings such as new shops or houses.
One elderly widower who found life hard during the strict lockdown as no household help was allowed to enter residential complexes found himself having to perform chores such as cooking and shopping for groceries. This was especially tough for him as for many older men here who have never had to deal with these mundane tasks until they find themselves alone.
However, among the services most in demand is emergency care. So, some companies have employed first responders comprising former defence personnel and paramedics, who are equipped with door cutters, firefighting equipment and oxygen tanks to enter a locked home and provide timely help. Try to picture a loved one alone at home and in need of medical help. Of course, the person in need of help should be taught what to do in such an emergency.
I realise that it takes patience and determination to convince parents of the need to be open to availing themselves of such services. We know how stubborn they can be as well as resistant to change. Some ways of easing the process is by making them feel that the decision is theirs and providing solutions that make them feel in control.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India