Hand-holding Kolkata’s elderly through the lockdown

Care Unlimited offers supported more than 25 octogenarians through the lockdown

Published - June 11, 2020 04:00 am IST -

Care Unlimited, a Kolkata-based organisation that offers personalised support to the elderly, hand-held more than 25 people above the age of 80 throughout the lockdown and the distress caused by cyclone Amphan , meeting their needs and making sure they didn’t feel lonely.

Most of these senior citizens — living alone in their homes in Kolkata — were already being assisted by the organisation when the lockdown was implemented, but it also reached out to many others who were in need.

“Since we could reach out to them only over the phone, we had to keep devising new ways to keep them engaged,” Surya Gupta, an electrical engineer who set up Care Unlimited five years ago after long stints at ABB and IBM, told The Hindu . “We had to make sure they didn’t feel lonely and had something to look forward to,” Mr. Gupta added.

“We increased the frequency of calls to enquire about their daily status. We also increased the duration of the calls, so that they could first vent out their worries before we could steer the conversation away from COVID-19 to help them see the brighter side of life. The idea was to hand-hold them out of the negativity around,” Mr. Gupta said.

Of the people the organisation attended to, about 50% were elderly couples and the remaining single, mostly widows. In almost all cases, the children live abroad or in other cities of India.

“For those who are tech-savvy, we made video calls at least once a week. In some cases where phone calls could not get them engaged effectively, video calls did the trick. We also introduced joint calls: two care advisors calling the senior citizen simultaneously to lighten the atmosphere and make some adda over phone,” Mr. Gupta said.

“One elderly gentleman living all by himself felt he was showing symptoms of a cardiac problem. We organised a video-conference with a doctor, who arrived at the conclusion that his heart was fine but he was under stress and should not live alone. We organised for a nurse to stay with him — we had to use an ambulance to reach the nurse there,” he explained.

“Once they were comfortable with video conferencing, we introduced virtual cultural events for them. But since most of them do not know how to download or use apps like Zoom or Webex, and since some of them do not even have a smartphone, we had to leverage on audio conferencing. We first conducted a programme on the Bengali New Year, in which we made them participate, and then we had another programme on Rabindra Jayanti, when we invited a guest artiste to perform,” he said.

“Back in March, when the lockdown had looked imminent, we had prepared them mentally for it. But the loneliness and the sense of confinement sunk in much later, and we had to keep inventing ways to introduce variety in their lives,” Mr. Gupta added.

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