In the year 2020, the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a grinding halt. Various nations imposed strict lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus. The fear of the virus engulfed the whole world as deaths due to COVID-19 infection was increasing day by day. While the news of the breakthrough in COVID-19 vaccine development was coming from all the corners, social isolation and fear were playing havoc with the mental health of every being. Though everyone was at risk, the elderly was more vulnerable.
Diabetes, blood pressure, cardiovascular issues are the grim realities of old age. Most of the elderly have either one or more of these underlying conditions apart from an the immune system that has weakened over time. The COVID-19 pandemic made access to healthcare facilities more difficult and unlike the young, they struggled to adapt to teleconsultations and online shopping.
The fear of severe complications and death loomed in the minds of the elderly adding to the mental tension. However, this vulnerability among the elderly has a varied response across nations and socio-economic conditions. Prof. Muraleedhran VR and Dr. Alok Ranjan from IIT Madras decided to study this vulnerability of the aged amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic more closely and suggest a few steps government can undertake to mitigate their vulnerability.
“Our research highlights ways in which the elderly may have suffered due to COVID-19 control measures,for example, social/physical distancing could increase depression, and lead to a higher chance of inflammatory response in the elderly. There are several such ailments specific to the vulnerable elderly population. These are highlighted empirically, supported by other studies carried out in other country settings during the current pandemic,” explains Prof. Muraleedharan.
This study, which published in the prestigious international journal Globalization and Health, is based on the 75th round National Sample Survey 2017–18, on social consumption related to health. The survey covered 113,823 households and 555,115 individuals from randomly selected 8077 villages and 6181 urban areas. The results showed that disparities exist in health status as well as healthcare access of elderly people across the country.
As per the study, the hospitalization rate was found higher in the urban areas, general social category, rich and among those who live alone. The study also found that only 18.9% of the elderly had health insurance and therefore they may not be able to bear large expenditure on health. Further, it was also identified that that 27.5% of people whose age is 80 years or above are immobile and 70% of elders are partially or wholly financially dependent on others. Missed treatments, unavailability of drugs also posed a major health challenge to elders. The researchers asked for strengthening the public healthcare system and more investment by the government to mitigate the adverse impact of the pandemic and enhance the quality of life of the elderly in the future.
“Some findings, though not unexpected, deserve special mention. First, it is clear that non-communicable diseases have emerged as the greatest threat to the health of the nation, irrespective of economic, regional or social groupings. As the proportion of elderly in India increase, this can be expected to increase still further. The more affluent seems to be also more prone to these, though this might reflect an awareness bias. But they do have more access to care both in private and public. These data reflect the status a few years before the Ayushman Bharat scheme took off. The initiatives on providing insurance coverage to poorer families had been in place for some years, and the findings reflect that they have not had too much success in reaching out to the elderly. Loneliness, lack of steady income, and lack of access to care still seem to the plight of too many of our senior citizens. This paper gives a well-articulated view of the status of health of the elderly in India. It strongly advocates for special policies to address the issues of the health of the elderly,” comments Prof. Raman Kutty who is a professor at Thiruvananthapuram based Achutha Menon Centre for Health Sciences Studies and works in a similar area.
The researchers want to extend the result of this study to a policy. They plan to carry out detailed surveys among the elderly population particularly in Tamil Nadu,, especially to design effective rehabilitative care which is almost absent in India’s public healthcare system. As the research group works closely with the Health and Family Welfare Department of the state government, they hope that their studies will be positively received by the state government.
The future is uncertain and we may experience such pandemics and adversaries in coming years and therefore it is important that we take lessons from the current pandemic to ensure that such disasters in the future are less detrimental to the physical and mental health of the elderly.
Article by Article by Aditi Jain
Here is the original link to the scientific paper: