DUBAI: The easing of movement restrictions in Dubai for the elderly and children below 12 years has been widely welcomed by the community, even as some seniors had a chance to turn adversities into opportunities during their stay-in period.
On Wednesday, authorities in Dubai announced the easing of movement restrictions for senior residents aged above 60 and children under 12 years with effect from today (June 18). The two categories, like the rest of the residents, can now visit malls and other previously restricted public places.
“The easing of coronavirus restrictions for seniors is like a breath of fresh air, literally. Our senior group has been cut off from their daily routine, including our regular meet ups which was part of their social outlet. Being obliged to stay home longer than the rest of the community was not easy.” said Desirée Vlekken, founder of 4get-me-not, a social enterprise that focuses on seniors (60 years old and above) as part of its mission to address Alzheimer’s Disease in the UAE.
Vlekken said, "We are definitely going to have a big summer reunion with seniors and caregivers, soak up the sun and make up for lost time with them once all the permissions are in. They will be thrilled once we set the date. And hopefully after that, we will be back on track organising meaningful social events involving music, art and even ice cream."
Senior citizens M. Balasubramnian and his wife Jaya, who are with their daughter Veena Mony, said they were delighted with the ease in restrictions. They said they had already gone out for a walk in their neighbourhood on Thursday morning.
“It feels great to be in Dubai – an oasis of peace and tranquility. I enjoyed a nice stroll in The Lakes where we live. I feel so happy to be here,” said Balasubramanian.
While welcoming the relaxation of the restrictions, some seniors said they would be cautious before moving out.
Pakistani expat Uzma Suleman said she her parents-in-law Syed Farooq Hussain, 70 and Gohar Sultana, 63 would take things slowly. “We would like to see the number of infections drop further in the UAE. Only then, we will feel confident to take them outdoors. Right now we don’t want to risk infection to them.”
Suleman said her parents-in-law – residents of UAE - have not stepped out of the house since the pandemic broke out in the UAE. “With the ease in restrictions, we were encouraging them to walk around the neighbourhood. But they want to be careful and not step out for a while.”
British expat Dr Sara Elliott too said she is not taking her children out yet.
"My 18-month old has not heard or seen anybody other than the family. She has forgotten what a car seat looks like. The same with my eight-year old. He has not met his friends which he misses most. Right now although restrictions have been lifted we are not in a big hurry to take them out. We would like to do it slowly,” she said.
Some were going places despite the odds
Some senior residents who are members of 4-get-me-noy were actually going places during the restrictions.
They embarked on hi-tech trips, hurtled across language barriers, enjoyed unique culinary journeys and walked down memory lane – all of which has been a virtual possibility, thanks to 4get-me-not,
So how was this happening?
The group founder Vlekken said, “We realised that ever since the outbreak of coronavirus, the routine of seniors was disrupted. Not that they went out a lot earlier, but even their limited outings – like visiting a place of worship or the supermarket – got affected. We were concerned about their mental health and wanted to stay connected with them through webinars.”
But there was a challenge.
“Most of the elderly members of 4get-me-not were not tech-savvy. So we had to first organise a master class to get them on board and educate them about Zoom, Tik Tok and other forums. To our surprise, they were more than willing to learn,” said Vlekken.
The initial hiccup overcome, the task now was to plan some activities that could engage them. Vlekken said, “We had to make them look forward to these activities. So we started off with a trip down memory lane in the first week. Basically, each member had to narrate a story from his or her life to an assigned volunteer. It gave them an opportunity to speak about themselves and also make new friends.”
The seniors instantly opened up. While a grieving Indian mum, 65, spoke of the loss of her son last year, another Briton narrated how she missed seeing her grandkids. In both cases, the seniors were able to vent their feelings and cope with what they were going through.
There have been many learnings for the group’s members during the past few weeks. As Vlekken said one of the sessions was devoted to learning basic Arabic where volunteers would teach them key words over the phone. Another was to make the seniors app-savvy.
“We got volunteers who educated them about essential apps that could help them in their daily lives. They were taught how to install them and use them,” said Vlekken.
She said knowing how to use apps is now a necessity and the sooner the seniors grasp that, the better. They need to install apps for emergencies and that was the focus of our session,” she added.
Another session that was a runaway hit with the seniors entailed a cooking activity, where they had to demonstrate their best recipes with the volunteers assigned to them. For many, it meant sharing their decades-long secrets, which they were only too happy to do.
In order to keep their minds active and have something to look forward to, the seniors were also asked to talk about what they waiting to do once the COVID-19 crisis passes.
The activities helped the seniors stay connected with their family, friends and new faces too. And among those who benefitted from them were some members who have been stuck overseas and have not yet been able to fly back to the UAE, said Vlekken.