Keep­ing our el­derly safe dur­ing this Covid-19 pandemic is a pri­or­ity as they are at the high­est risk of be­ing in­fected and dy­ing from it. It is also crit­i­cal that we make sure they are not ne­glected dur­ing this move­ment con­trol or­der pe­riod.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By S. INDRAMALAR life­[email protected]­

MANY groups are es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble dur­ing this Covid-19 pandemic, es­pe­cially se­nior citizens.

“Mor­tal­ity for this virus gets higher with age mainly be­cause age is a proxy for other con­di­tions such as Di­a­betes Mel­li­tus (that com­pro­mises one’s im­mune sys­tem), res­pi­ra­tory diseases and heart dis­ease. Data from China shows that more than 80% of those who died were aged over 60 years.

“As­tudy of more than 44,000 pa­tients by the Chi­nese Cen­tre for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion also showed that pa­tients older than 80 who were in­fected with Covid-19 had a 15% chance of dy­ing – far higher than the gen­eral es­ti­mated mor­tal­ity. Sim­i­lar pat­terns are also seen in Italy,” says Prof Dr No­ran Mohd Hairi of Univerisit­i Malaya’s Depart­ment of So­cial and Pre­ven­tive Medicine.

Making sure that older adults are safe is there­fore of para­mount im­por­tance, say ex­perts.

So­cial dis­tanc­ing must be prac­tised and any rel­a­tive, fam­ily mem­ber or friend who comes into con­tact with older in­di­vid­u­als must make sure that they are not putting them at risk.

“We can still pro­vide sup­port to the our par­ents and grand­par­ents dur­ing this time of so­cial dis­tanc­ing but we need to take pre­cau­tions. The less con­tact they have with other peo­ple or the com­mu­nity, the less the risk of them get­ting the virus.

“If there is al­ready a fam­ily mem­ber tak­ing care of our el­derly, in our home­towns, we should not travel back to visit them as this will in­crease their risk of get­ting ex­posed to the virus.

“If a fam­ily mem­ber does go out to get es­sen­tial items, they must take pre­cau­tions when they re­turn home. This is es­pe­cially so for health­care work­ers in hos­pi­tals,” says As­soc Prof Dr Rafdzah Ah­mad Zaki, a pub­lic health spe­cial­ist at UM’S Cen­tre of Epi­demi­ol­ogy and Ev­i­dence-based Prac­tice.

For Dawn Ling, keep­ing her 96-year-old grand­fa­ther, James Jeremiah, safe is her big­gest con­cern dur­ing this pandemic.

“At his age, his im­mu­nity is weaker and abil­ity to heal is much slower. My great­est con­cern is that peo­ple are not tak­ing this se­ri­ously.

“Ev­ery­one needs to stay away from my grandpa. In­stead peo­ple are be­ing very in­con­sid­er­ate. Some fam­ily friends and rel­a­tives are go­ing on house vis­its, bring­ing other friends and rel­a­tives with them. This is not the time. This is not Christ­mas! They might see this as just a nor­mal flu but for a 96-year-old, it is deadly,” stresses Ling.

Be­cause she lives in KL and her grand­fa­ther and mother in Pe­nang, Ling is even more anx­ious as she isn’t able to look af­ter them.

“All I can do is call twice a day, min­i­mum, and nag them to wash their hands and to not have vis­i­tors. I have even posted a note on my Face­book page which I know is vis­i­ble to my rel­a­tives so that they stay away,” says Ling, 33, a pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager.

For se­niors who live on their own, stay­ing put at home may be an is­sue as they need to shop for es­sen­tials like gro­ceries, medicines and toi­letries. In the wake of the pandemic, com­mu­nity groups and non-gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions have stepped up to de­liver ne­ces­si­ties for the el­derly.

Now, more than ever, se­niors who live by them­selves need the sup­port of their fam­i­lies, car­ers and com­mu­nity.

“They might need sup­port for their daily chores such as clean­ing or pre­par­ing meals. How­ever, it is im­por­tant that any­one who comes into con­tact with them wear ap­pro­pri­ate pro­tec­tive gear as ad­vised by the health au­thor­i­ties,” says Dr Rafdzah.

Stay­ing in touch with se­niors is also im­por­tant to en­sure they im­me­di­ately seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion should they have any of the symp­toms of the virus, she says.

“Even if they have mild symp­toms, they must be taken care of be­fore it pro­gresses to a more se­ri­ous and crit­i­cal stage,” says Dr Rafdzah.

Health min­istry di­rec­tor-gen­eral Dr Noor Hisham Ab­dul­lah said that most of the Covid-19 re­lated deaths in the country have been due to late treat­ment. There are five stages of Covid-19 but most pa­tients come to the hos­pi­tal at Stage 3, when they have some form of pneu­mo­nia but do not re­quire res­pi­ra­tory aid.

Stay­ing in touch

While it is cru­cial that se­niors stay home and away from risk of in­fec­tion, Dr No­ran em­pha­sises the need for fam­i­lies to call their par­ents and rel­a­tives (not call on them) reg­u­larly.

“Pick up the phone and chat with them. Just ask them how they are,” she says.

Ex­perts em­pha­sise the need to con­stantly be in touch with the el­derly to keep track of how they are cop­ing.

“The old fash­ion tele­phone is very im­por­tant. You can hear some­thing in a per­son’s voice that can­not be de­tected in an email,” says Stacey Tor­res, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cisco in a New York Times ar­ti­cle, “Take Steps to Counter Lone­li­ness of So­cial Dis­tanc­ing”.

Some se­niors are al­ready ahead of the game. The So­cial Con­nect Group, a se­nior citizens group in SS20 in Pe­tal­ing Jaya sus­pended all their group out­door ac­tiv­i­ties in early Fe­bru­ary.

“We weighed the pros and cons af­ter the sit­u­a­tion in Wuhan be­came se­ri­ous and de­cided to tem­po­rar­ily stop our park danc­ing ses­sions un­til the sit­u­a­tion got bet­ter.

“We were cau­tious be­cause our group was very big, of­ten more than 70 peo­ple and we couldn’t keep par­tic­i­pants out just be­cause of their travel his­tory,” says Datin Lim Ah Lan, a res­i­dent and mem­ber of the group.

In­stead, the group chat on What­sapp and share dance and ex­er­cise videos for each other to fol­low from their homes. “Be­cause we don’t meet, there are hun­dreds of mes­sages fly­ing around in the dif­fer­ent What­sapp groups. We have to be care­ful be­cause we are a se­niors’ group,” she says.

What’s wor­ry­ing our se­niors

Joanna Pil­lai has been play

ing the vil­lain since the move­ment con­trol or­der was im­posed more than a week ago. Ev­ery morn­ing, she stops her el­derly mother from go­ing out for her daily walk or vis­it­ing her friends who live “just down the road”. Her 75-year-old mother ar­gues that she is healthy and will “only be out for a short while”, but Joanna isn’t will­ing to take any chances.

Joanna isn’t the only frus­trated fam­ily mem­ber.

“Old habits die hard,” says geron­tol­o­gist Lily Fu. “Old peo­ple have fixed mind­sets. Those who are in gen­eral good health are not alarmed by the speed of in­fec­tion and sever­ity of the dis­ease. They need to be shown the Covid-19 sta­tis­tics of each state, where the red zones are and how close they are to these zones.

“They need to hear about lo­cal cases in­volv­ing older peo­ple. They need to be aware that they could eas­ily be in­fected and that they in turn can in­fect their el­derly friends or other fam­ily mem­bers.

“They need to hear from au­thor­i­ta­tive pub­lic fig­ures they know, trust and be­lieve.”

Although the blithe at­ti­tude to so­cial dis­tanc­ing isn’t lim­ited to the el­derly – many news re­ports and so­cial me­dia posts show younger peo­ple flaunt­ing the MCO too – Dr No­ran says that it can be par­tic­u­larly frus­trat­ing for se­niors.

“So­cial dis­tanc­ing can be frus­trat­ing. I know that my par­ents are get­ting bored be­ing un­able to go to the mosque for their daily prayers.

“But these are un­prece­dented times. En­cour­age our par­ents to do things they en­joy, move around and do sim­ple ex­er­cise, keep a jour­nal, ex­plore hob­bies.

“And, al­ways wash hands with soap and wa­ter. Eat healthy, well-bal­anced meals and get enough sleep,” or­ders the doc­tor.

Apart from not be­ing able to move about freely out­side their homes, se­nior citizens are also anx­ious about the bar­rage of news and in­for­ma­tion about the pandemic, most of which aren’t hope­ful - par­tic­u­larly for peo­ple in their age group.

“Our mor­tal­ity oc­cu­pies our thoughts much more these days. There is hardly any com­fort­ing news for older peo­ple.

“There is con­stant re­minders that older peo­ple are the most vul­ner­a­ble to Covid-19.

“It also doesn’t help to know that in Italy, doc­tors are forced to de­cide who gets crit­i­cal care.

“And guess who are not at the top of the pri­or­ity list? Those above

80. Now this has been low­ered to

60. Ageism ex­ists in who gets to live and who doesn’t,” adds Fu.

Many se­niors found the news “de­press­ing” as the lives of se­nior citizens are con­sid­ered less valu­able.

“Age should not be a cri­te­ria. There are older peo­ple who are still ac­tively con­tribut­ing to the econ­omy and so­ci­ety,” she says.

She points out that the big­gest con­cern and at­ten­tion should on the el­derly in the B40 cat­e­gory who live in low-cost hous­ing ar­eas who have to do with­out much sup­port.

“The most at-risk group are the el­derly liv­ing alone.

“Dur­ing MCO, no vis­i­tors or even so­cial work­ers drop by. NGOS, re­li­gious groups and those with money to do good should step in and see where their help is needed.

“Hav­ing strong re­li­gious faith or a be­lief sys­tem will help to pro­vide psy­cho­log­i­cal and spir­i­tual com­fort dur­ing these try­ing times,” she says.


Se­niors can con­nect with their loved ones on through the many video chat apps. They can even fol­low an on­line dance or ex­er­cise tu­to­rial.


Ling is bent on making sure rel­a­tives and fam­ily friends don’t visit her 96-year-old grand­fa­ther, James, dur­ing the MCO pe­riod.

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