Gated community in Chennai helps home-alone seniors

You probably have an acquaintance who sends that infuriatingly inane ‘Good morning!’ message and slides into silence that is broken 24 hours later with another ‘Good morning!’. It is probably going on for eons and you have trained yourself to ignore that greeting. Or, you are probably that acquaintance persistently posting that well-intentioned but pointless greeting, morning after morning. Here is reason to forgive yourself if you are one.

‘Good morning’ and similarly unimaginative off-the-rack two-word and one-word online salutations have received a step-up, being hailed as life-savers in a big gated community in Padur, South Chennai.

Mantri Synergy Owners’ Association (MASOWN) promotes the idea of small buddy-groups, where one young or relatively-young resident “adopts” one or two seniors who are out on their own.

Each of these compact units is closeted together in a WhatsApp-group that abounds in monosyllabic greetings. The only difference is that these greetings elicit a response that offers the semblance of a conversation. Sample this: A ‘Hi’ met with an abrupt ‘Yes’. On a chattier note, a “How are you?” draws a “Fine”, and then, stony silence. That is of course hyperbole — lengthy addas are legit, and they do happen. The fact is that each of these compact groups is primed for holding crisp conversations of this kind, through the day — to make sure everything is fine with the “home-alone” seniors.

Here is the genesis of it.

A recent accident involving a senior and a couple of similar incidents earlier have led the Association to launch an initiative that identifies resident-volunteers as helper-friends for home-alone seniors, explains Soman Panicker, secretary, MASOWN.

An eye-opener
  • Residents of Mantri Synergy cannot believe it happened to Geetha Viswanathan. She herself is struck by the unlikelihood of it.
  • Though 71, Geetha is known for running her life with uncommon elan. By her own admission, she takes pride in being “very independent” where she chooses to punctuate “very” by four repetitions of the word.
  • An entrepreneur running a fashion-technology institute and a former president at her community’s association, Mantri Synergy Owners’ Association, she reveals that “going through this experience was not easy for me.” Besides, it has turned out to be an eye-opener.
  • Without any health issues, Geetha had not thought through possible medical emergencies, and kept handy options on the ready. That morning, just before heading out of the rest-room, she tried to clear a “black insect off a clean bathroom floor”.
  • “While trying to wipe it off with my feet, I lost my balance and had a great fall, which left me fractured on the right side of the pelvic bone and on the right hand. Unable to pull myself up, I knew I was trapped inside.”
  • The door was latched on the top. Excruciated by efforts to drag herself on the floor and locate her mobile phone, she would not dare imagine standing up and unlatching the door.
  • When managed to drag herself to the phone only to realise lack of signal had rendered it temporarily useless.
  • “I would have tried hundreds of numbers. I tried those of all the committee members, but none of the calls was going through. There was no signal. When I managed to reach a security lady, the signal being patchy, she hung up, not having heard what I communicated to her,” recalls Geetha. “Luckily, the waste collection people arrived. A woman-worker rang the bell. I cried out my need for help, saying the door should be broken open. She heard me. Within 10 minutes, the carpenter arrived. All the committee members had come.”
  • Geetha’s children were informed and medical help was promptly arranged for.
  • Geetha points out it was her will-power that came to her aid in the seemingly interminable moments when she had to handle the crisis helplessly locked inside her home.
  • It was still anything but easy. Geetha visualises how most other home-alone seniors would have handled this situation. She concludes that MASOWN’s initiative to help home-alone seniors with volunteers is the best thing to have happened to them.

“A month ago, a senior living alone had a fall in the bathroom, breaking her hip and a hand. It was with difficulty she managed to find help,” elaborates Panicker. (Read box “An eye-opener”). “Following this incident, a senior citizen asked me if it would be possible to form an SOS group.”

These small buddy groups are offshoots of a master online-offline group that throws seniors and their benefactors together.

First of all, a “census” of senior citizens was undertaken.

“When I tried to get some volunteers, the response was spontaneous. Twenty-five volunteers came forward to join the initiative,” begins Soman, adding that around 30 senior citizens joined, tacitly expressing their need for help.

“So, we formed a WhatsApp group. As the next step, we started the adoption process. Volunteers in every block would identify home-alone seniors. There are nine blocks. These volunteers are expected to take care of seniors in their block, and then others. In the small groups, one volunteer takes care of one or two seniors, staying constantly in touch, checking on their well-being continually.”

The initiative has reached the tail-end of a critical process: Getting to know the seniors better.

“Now, we are in the process of collecting data, including the seniors’ medical conditions and information about their relatives — their contact details, and so on. That data bank will be with the Association, and one copy will be pasted on the fridge or in a prominent place in that individual’s flat. In an emergency, this data would prove invaluable. Around 80 p.c. of this process has been completed,” the secretary says.

While medical emergencies may readily come to mind, this initiative also covers the workaday irritants of life, which can prove more debilitating when coupled with advanced age.

ALSO READ: Support for home-alone seniors

So, the volunteers are expected to source medicine or groceries, or help the seniors draw money from the bank.

It sounds like full-fledged commitment.

On Old Mahabalipuram Main Road, young residents go where projects lead them. Even in the normal course, many youngsters may regularly travel to their hometown. Wouldn’t that disrupt the smooth functioning of this initiative? Says Soman, “The system is being designed in such a manner that for every dedicated volunteer, there is another on standby.”

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2021 1:00:13 AM |

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