Story in numbers: Elderly population is alone and vulnerable amid lockdown

Those above 60 years of age constitute 8% of India’s population, according to the 2011 census
A kg of rice and 500 gm of dal is all 61-year-old Savitri Bai Padaliya has had to see her through the ongoing lockdown declared nearly one-and-a-half month ago to contain the spread of Covid-19. The woman, who lost her only child around two years ago, lives alone in Ujjain and survives on a small pension and sporadic earnings from selling fodder.

“Everything is closed, so I called a helpline number someone gave me and was given some ration,” she said, referring to the helpline set up by HelpAge India, an NGO working for the disadvantaged elderly. “But what will I do when this gets over?”

Unlike Padaliya, Shambhu Chopra, 67, a retired lawyer in Prayagraj, is not short of money but still struggling through the long days of physical distancing. He lives alone, does not know how to cook, and his domestic help has stopped coming to work. He reached out to people in his network, and also to Caremongers India, a Facebook community of volunteers that responds to distress calls from across the country. 

A local police station came to his help, offering him two packaged meals a day.

Helplines for the urban elderly, such as those run by HelpAge India, and social media support groups, such as Caremongers, have been receiving an increased number of distress calls after the outbreak of Covid-19. There has been a 40-50% increase in the number of calls on helplines for the elderly, said Imtiaz Ahmed, head of the helpline network at HelpAge India. The NGO has a central helpline number connected with support teams in 21 states.

The problems of elderly callers ranged from the shortage of medicines and physical support to anxiety, fear and anxiousness. Their biggest fear: Dying alone with no family or friends around, said volunteers and support staff at helplines.

Those above 60 years of age constitute 8% of India’s population, according to the 2011 census. A 2016 report by the social statistics division of the ministry of statistics and programme implementation puts the number of elderly at nearly 104 million.

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