Chennai

COVID-19: Volunteers pitch in to help home-alone seniors

At an awareness session conducted by HelpAge India on Corona virus. Photo: Special Arrangement

At an awareness session conducted by HelpAge India on Corona virus. Photo: Special Arrangement  

While the majority are looking for help in sourcing essential items, a good number of the elderly are battling depression in these times and may need counselling support

Septuagenarian D. Rajasekaran’s voice quivers with helplessness as he narrates the difficulties in finding help for his “flock”. He is the secretary of the Tamil Nadu Senior Citizens’ Association, a 3000-member group, and is now getting accustomed to receiving frequent calls through the day from seniors who are unable to get their medicine or provisions.

“There are frequent calls now from seniors seeking some kind of support, many are from rural areas,” begins Rajasekaran, and he reveals that just a while ago he was on the phone with a pan-India organisation for the welfare of senior citizens seeking to find out if they can help out in some way.

Ironically, Rajasekaran, retired income tax official who lives with his wife in Chennai, is looking for help himself.

“This morning, I went to buy fruits but the shop had run out of stock, and I was asked to return and try my luck a couple of hours later. I did and stood in a queue and got some fruits,” he says.

“While those staying in apartment complexes have somebody to reach out to for help, for those living alone and are cut out from city limits, these can be stressful times,” says Rajasekaran.

Battling loneliness

Rajasekaran says that some seniors, who are members of the Association, are battling the effects of loneliness, and looking to talk to someone.

Three team members from HelpAge India Chennai make 60 calls a day, on an average, to check on senior citizens. They also receive calls with great frequency.

“Some calls are from those seniors who have associated with the voluntary organisation for a long time, and others are those who get on our helpline number,” says R. Muthukrishnan, senior manager, HelpAge India, adding that counselling support is being offered on all the helpline numbers of HelpAge India.

“On an average we spend 20 minutes speaking to one caller,” he says. “This apart, there is a good number of calls from those who are trying to help the homeless elderly on the road. We direct such calls to the Corporation which runs night shelters.”

Limiting factors

Restrictions on movement of people sometime come in the way of efforts to help seniors.

“For many seniors, it is comforting that that such services are available. It’s not always that we can deliver but we call back and say we were not able to do this today but may be tomorrow,” says Aruna Subramanium, trustee, Bhoomika Trust.

The not-for-profit organisation, which has disaster relief and rehabilitation as one of its thrust areas, launched the senior citizens helpline recently seeing the need to address problems faced by this age group.

“It’s a new kind of crisis that nobody has worked on, you are not able to send people out on the field. We have rules like no volunteer should enter the house and also not to exchange currency,” says Aruna.

In the long run, she says, communities have to support and they are trying to propagate that idea.

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Groups supporting seniors

* Bhoomika Trust helps senior citizens living alone in Chennai, with its volunteers fetching medicine and food supplies for them. Its call centre records calls and directs them to teams as per the stated needs. It also takes senior citizens who have a dialysis scheduled, to the hospital. Contact: 044-46314726.

* Dignity Foundation has moved its programmes online, and by logging on through Zoom, senior citizens can take part in activities such as quiz, music and reading every day between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.. This is a pan-India initiative and one can contact any of its six centres at Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai and New Delhi to know more about this.

* The general helpline number of HelpAge India is 1800-180-1253 where calls are directed to the respective cities. Those seeking support in Chennai can also call 98417 13671.

* Sai Keshav, a working professional from Bengaluru, has joined hands with Silver Talkies to run errands for senior citizens. He has 25 volunteers from Bengaluru helping him. “The idea is to have a volunteer in every ward,” says Keshav. He says his volunteers must wear masks and practise social distancing while delivering the goods. Contact: 9591111300 or 6362890768.

* Bengaluru South MP has launched a helpline number 99464 99464 for citizens to avail help in buying food, medicines and groceries. Seniors battling psychological stress can seek help from a psychiatrist that the helpline number would direct them to.

* Caremongers India offers support to seniors living alone in Bengaluru. They run errands for the seniors with the help of volunteers. Contact: 95911 68886

* Senior citizens registered with the Delhi police have the kakhi-clad personnel checking upon them. With the help of volunteers, it is reaching out to senior citizens living alone in the city. As per reports, a beat constable of the police station concerned has to visit the homes of registered senior citizens once a week and also keep in touch with them over phone.

(If you know of groups offering support to senior citizens in these times, please write in to us about it at downtownfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 8:33:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/covid-19-volunteers-pitch-in-to-help-home-alone-seniors/article31197050.ece

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