The old age homes were never happy abodes for our senior citizens. But, over the years, in cities like Kolkata, many opted for such homes as their children have gone abroad, leaving them in nobody’s care. The authorities of many such homes however cared for them well. They also took various initiatives to entertain the boarders by arranging trips to various places including cinema halls or inviting artists to the homes to perform before these old people. Such initiatives helped to keep the boarders mentally healthy.
If covid-19 has changed the world to the maximum for any particular group of people, the boarders of these old homes are those unfortunate ones.
They are the most vulnerable people. So, all the old age homes cancelled all sorts of entertainment programmes after the outbreak of the pandemic. Sujit Chatterjee, a doctor associated with such home near the Eastern Bypass of Kolkata, says, “They are confined to these homes like inmates of the jail for last 14 months. We cannot allow any outsider to come and meet them, not even their relatives. If somehow one of them is infected, perhaps many of them will die.” Jayatri Das, in charge of a home at Survey Park, has stated that the boarders now talk to their relatives on video calls only.
But this sort of forced isolation is affecting their mental health. Those associated with the homes do not want to discuss the problem on record. But on condition of anonymity, a psychiatrist said he was getting regular calls from such homes to treat an increasing number of people slipping into depression. According to him, the old people need to spend some time in the open every day. This is true about everybody, but more about the old people in the homes as they spend their time idly. But, nowadays there is no scope for the borders to go out in the open, and this is affecting the men more than the women.
Many of the boarders perhaps will never be able to come out of this depression, concludes the psychiatrist. It is a dangerous situation indeed.
Many doctors of Kolkata nowadays have a peer group spread all over India. They say almost all the old age homes in big cities are facing a similar crisis.
Apart from depression, the covid-19 infection and the fear of being infected have become another major concern. No home is ready to divulge how many boarders have been infected with covid-19. But Sharmila Roy, a nurse associated with a private hospital, said in the last year quite a few people from such old age homes were admitted. Though there are no statistics on them, it is only natural that many of them died a lonely death in many such hospitals.
(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)