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The elderly in our community share their experiences living through the COVID-19 pandemic

by Ashima

Valuable perspectives from the people most affected by pandemic isolation.

By Rubani Sethi

The last 19 months have proven difficult for everyone as they required sudden changes in lifestyle, which have inevitably taken a toll on our physical and mental health. As physical distancing guidelines were put in place, we were forced to be apart, putting us all in relatable scenarios – we hid in our houses, ordered food from supermarkets or Grab, and fed our need for connection through spending time with the family members we thankfully shared a home with or through the use of technology. 

We have found creative ways to adapt to the situation at hand, to pacify ourselves. The elderly, too, have found ways to cope, but they have also faced a unique set of challenges associated with the pandemic, and have had to overcome obstacles we may have taken for granted or have never even imagined. 

A few elderly members of our Thai-Indian community shed light on their experiences with Masala.

Ms. Nalini Sampat, 86 years old

What do you believe you have you missed out on because of the pandemic?

I have had to give up important aspects of my routine and independence. For example, I used to go for walks every day downstairs by the poolside, but because of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to do that. Furthermore, I miss my shopping at the supermarket, as I used to go out to buy vegetables and fruits myself. I’ve had to make do without visits that would previously give me joy. We used to have a lot of guests coming in, like my daughter, but now she has not been able to visit me. The same applies to my friends in Bangkok as well as relatives in India. I haven’t seen them in person in so long.

How has your family supported you?

Due to the restrictions, my son has been working from home. I feel less alone now that he is home with me. Before the pandemic, I was on my own at home all day, but now I am happy because everybody is working from home and I feel less lonely.

What are some of the things you’re doing to help you cope?

I’m really happy that I’ve been able to develop my hobby into a small home business. I love making pickles, and now because of the pandemic, I’m able to sell them. I received support from someone I know who encouraged me to sell my pickles online and I’m very happy to share them with everyone. It keeps me busy, and I look forward to the orders that come in.

I also pass my time playing games on my mobile phone with my school friends who are in India. It is entertaining and keeps me busy. I have also learned how to flick and browse through channels on my television. I try to tell myself that this is only temporary, and that I will soon be able to visit people or that people can come visit me. 

What advice would you give other families on how to support their elders?

I would advise the younger generation to teach the older generation on how to be tech savvy. Teach them how to use their phones and the Smart TV. I would also advise the younger generation to encourage the older generation to have hobbies. 

Mrs. Neelam Pathela, 69 years old

What has become more difficult as a result of the pandemic?

It has become more difficult to go out freely, so I miss family gatherings, meeting my friends, and going out with my family. The pandemic has even made it hard to go walk around in our soi to greet our neighbors too.

Have your family been supportive during this period?

My family have definitely supported me by checking on me and taking care of the things I needed. We don’t meet as much but we talk many times a day. Emotional support is important at this time, because it is not easy to be stuck at home.

What are some of the things you do to manage the changes that are happening?

The pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. Everyone is home most of the time doing their work or having online classes, so mealtimes need to work around that. I have learned to always keep myself busy with something because going out is not an option. I often choose cooking, reading spiritual books, watching TV, and playing games on my iPad.

What is something you learned about yourself and others during the pandemic?

I have learned that everyone has their own things to do. Expectations should be low and support should be high. Everyone is struggling to do their online school and online work.  This is life right now and we have to adapt to it. It is very important to stay positive!

What advice would you give to other families on how to support their elders?

The elderly don’t have much to do during the pandemic. Going out is not the best option, therefore, it would be great if you can help them fi nd a hobby to do at home. Besides watching TV and looking through social media, they could start a hobby like knitting, reading, painting, cooking or baking. They could also start doing what young kids do, playing games. Word Search and Candy Crush are two that I like. I tried to learn to use the computer during these times and my children support my learning process.

Mr. Rachan Pathela, 73 years old

How have your family supported you?

My family members have helped me do work that requires being outside like banking and shopping for our household things. They have also helped with driving me around.

What are the things you do to cope with these ongoing changes?

I spend my time viewing my old collections of coins and my stamp albums, I also make photo frames and video clips of my favorite singer Cliff Richard to upload them on a YouTube channel.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the pandemic?

I learned that the love of family members and their support is everything.

Mr. Kuldip Raj Sachdeva, 84 years old

How has your family supported you during this time and what advice would you give to other families on how to support their elders?

Elderly parents need love and care more than anything. Asking them what they would like to eat and noticing the small challenges they have will be much appreciated. My son noticed that I messed up sometimes, and now when I am going to sit at the dining table, my son comes and helps, so that if I drop some food I will drop it on the plate and not get my clothes dirty. If you are walking outside along with your elders and the road is uneven, while stepping down from the footpath, you can offer to hold their hand. They will definitely feel very happy. These small gestures of love and care, though very small, can count a lot in the lives of elders. That is how my children look after me and treat me. 

Ms. Pavitar Kaur Sachdev, 80 years old

What has become more difficult as a result of the pandemic?

I already suffer from an underlying health condition, so I needed to change my medicines to better my condition. My health has fluctuated since the pandemic started so I cannot walk properly and have been experiencing a lot of pain. It has been difficult for me to go for my doctor appointments to consult about the next steps because I am scared that I might get infected. I need to stay home and monitor my symptoms, as well as ensure that I am keeping safe at the same time.

How has your family supported you?

They constantly check in with my doctor and they take good care of me as I live with my daughter’s husband, so there is 24/7 care with the support of the helpers at home. All my meals, medicines, and sources of entertainment have been sorted out by others. I feel very grateful to have such a loving and warm family and I feel like I am lucky to be supported by them. I don’t feel like I lack anything in particular because they are really doing all they can and the best for me. 

What are some of the things you do to cope with the changes?

I stay positive, rest a lot and also pray to God. I try not to get distracted by the news and what is happening on the outside. I go with the fl ow. If I need to sleep an extra hour, I will because I don’t think it’s healthy to force myself into a routine at this age. If I am experiencing any body aches or general pain, I take action and go for physical therapy right away before it worsens. I like to watch movies to pass time and have a good time with my family members. 

What is something you learned during this pandemic?

To not go out if it’s not necessary. I have also learned home remedies to fight the virus from YouTube and other videos. I did not step out of the house at all because I felt like it was not worth the risk, so I found joy in doing little things at home even if it was just going for evening walks. I also videocall my family members a lot so I don’t get bored. I learned that technology has really helped me or at least people in my generation get through our days a lot easier. 

What advice can you give based on your experience?

To take a lot of rest, listen to your body, and do whatever your heart feels like. Keep your thoughts happy, try not be consumed with negativity. Listen to hymns and Shabads and also pray to stay positive and strong. Be grateful for your roof, family members, and a new day every day. Remember to include some physical activity in your day even if it is just ten rounds of walking. Family members should not push any elder to do something they do not feel like. Don’t leave the elders alone. If you can get help from your cousins or if other members are offering support, you must take it and avoid being alone because anything can happen at any time. 

THE TAKE AWAY

The elderly make up a major part of our community and have had to adapt and endure, just like all of us. They have had to battle and overcome loneliness, foster stronger relationships with technology, make do with virtual family and social interactions, and so much more, all while grappling with underlying health concerns and vulnerabilities related to age. The elderly in our community have shown us, however, that they are resilient and we have much to learn from them!

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