For so many of us, the past week has wrought havoc on our lives. Faced with war-zone like conditions, we are experiencing unprecedented levels of human crises of a magnitude never seen before.
As we fight daily to keep our families safe, our possessions intact, and our emotions in check, South Africans – in particular, those in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng – are particularly worried about loved ones living apart from us.
Those lucky enough to live close to their nearest and dearest can support one another other. But for those living further away, there has never been a scarier time as we struggle to shield more vulnerable family members from harm’s way. For the loved ones of older people in particular, the past few days have been traumatic.
A Gauteng based friend, whose 96-year-old grandfather lives with his carer in Durban, is petrified about what will happen if they run out of food and medicines. Another, who flew in from the Cape to be with her elderly parents in Durban, is frustratingly stuck at King Shaka International airport because the roads to her parents’ home remain a no-go zone.
For those who cannot travel to be with relatives at this time, there are other ways to support elderly people living alone and in fear. Here are five steps you can take today to check and support elders in isolation from afar:
- Phone daily to check on elderly parents and friends
Keep communication lines open and check in every day. Do you have a neighbour’s number if older people do not answer their phone? If there is an emergency, do they know how to access the quickest emergency support available? Decide who is your secondary care contact if the older person is not contactable, and speak with care providers about how you will reconnect in the event of an evacuation.
- Have an emergency care plan
Older people with illness or disablility need specific care plans. Keep details of what medication is required, where scripts can be filled and what emergency medication is needed. Also keep a list of extra chronic medication which is required. Should the elder have medic alert bracelets or chains, ask constantly if these are being worn.
- Familiarise yourself with support services close to your loved one
Would you know which is the closest medical facility to call in an emergency? Know your loved one’s exact location and address details. Find out if there are local emergency support groups/chats you can join to be alerted in the case of disaster; these have proved to be invaluable to communities in this time of need.
- Share ideas for simplified living
We know that the food supply chain has been disrupted and shortages are a reality. Look at ways to encourage elders to “stretch” what ingredients they have. Instead of making a curry or roasting a piece of chicken, use that protein to make a pot of stew or soup that will last several meals. Share simple recipes that use fewer ingredients.
- Most importantly, keep them calm
Older people are particularly vulnerable to the physical impact of emotional turmoil. Try not to alarm an older person living alone, who may be insulated from the onslaught of social media. Too much distressing information is not helpful. Share only what they need to know for their immediate safety.
We stand with many, many peaceful South Africans in praying for an end to the violence and looting. Let us all do our part to hasten our country’s return to normality.