How elder-care services are filling in for family in the pandemic
The organisations are helping with groceries and errands, doctors’ visits, even last rites, stepping in for children trapped abroad and unable to visit. Sometimes, they say, all the seniors want to do is talk and know that someone is nearby.
Rajam Krishnamurthi, 79, lost her husband in October. He was 84; they’d been married 59 years. “He did not want any religious ceremonies, but he wanted to donate his body for scientific purposes,” she says.
In the middle of the pandemic, with her daughter Vidhya in the US, Krishnamurthi didn’t know how to realise his last wish.
Then she thought of Sakhi4Life. On her last visit home in February 2020, Vidhya had told her parents about the elder-care organisation. If you ever need anything, she had said, they offer a range of services.
“We never guessed how useful such a service would be,” Krishnamurthi says. Through the pandemic, she and her husband reached out, usually when they were afraid to go out to buy groceries. On a few occasions, after the lockdowns were lifted, the organisation organised drives in a sanitised car.
In October, Krishnamurthi reached out to them again. Could they help her with her husband’s last wish? “The entire process was handled smoothly,” Krishnamurthi says. They coordinated with a local hospital and it was done as he had wanted.
Across the country, elder-care bodies like Sakhi4Life in Chennai, Aaji Care in Mumbai, Porosh in Kolkata and Kites in Bengaluru have been stepping up through the past year, filling in for children who can’t return home and communities that can no longer assist their elderly.
For elders battling a pandemic alongside health issues, essential doctor’s visits, paperwork, bank transactions, and most of all, the missing children who can’t make it home to be with them, these services have been providing logistical assistance and, some seniors say even more important, a listening ear and someone to talk to.
“Initially, I had no idea how such a thing works. But now I hardly ever feel that no family member is near me,” Pratima Ghosh, 89, says of Porosh. “Whenever I need anything, I call them. From picking up medicines to collecting money from the bank, or when I need someone to talk to about things that worry me, they are there.”
Pratima and her husband RK Ghosh, 90, returned to Kolkata from the US six years ago. They had lived there with their children for 14 years, but yearned to be home. Pratima has since suffered two spinal injuries and finds it hard to get around. Meanwhile, their son and daughter have been unable to visit for over a year. Porosh has been helping them with medicines, doctors’ appointments and arranging for caregivers at home.
With the second wave, the complications have increased, says Suchint Murali, a former HR executive and co-founder of Sakhi4Life. So much time has passed that there are large and small things that can no longer wait. Sometimes it’s an electric issue in the house, other times a fixed deposit due for renewal.
“People are that much more panicky too, and reasonably so,” Murali says. “We are working with elders to limit exposure, so we have to be the all-needs stop. Earlier we would accompany them to the bank or a social gathering, but now we do the errands and they stay home.”
The care bodies use technology to assist. Aaji Care offers video consults on nutrition and on changing Covid guidelines, Sakhi4Life uses video calls for banks and other official bodies that prefer some form of two-step verification.
When clients are diagnosed with Covid-19, the care bodies arrange for medicines, home-care or assistance at the hospital. “Once admitted, we follow up with information for the family members who are abroad,” says Prasad Bhide, a former software engineer and founder of Aaji Care.
The organisations’ charges vary, depending on the task and provider, typically ranging between ₹2,500 a month and ₹1,000 a day. What makes them stand out is the personal touch, says Rajarshi Shome, 45, an engineer based in Germany. He and his wife Nayanjuli Shome hired the services of Porosh for her parents in Kolkata.
“This year has been terrible for us. We have not been able to make the trip to be with them. The news from back home makes us very anxious,” Rajarshi says. “In this situation, an organisation that is willing to listen is very important. I feel like I can trust these people with family.”
Many clients speak of the relationships they have formed with their carers. “With people living alone, there is a void that is difficult to fill,” says Paushali Chakraborty, a geriatric and dementia counsellor and co-founder of Porosh. “We try by being present on their special days. Even that has suffered in the pandemic. For many, the little tasks that they could do earlier, they are now nervous doing. They keep talking about how, if they are infected, their children will not even get to see them.”
Calls and video calls help keep them engaged, Chakraborty adds. “In some cases, we interact every day or every alternate day. We talk about their school and college days, their children, their former careers. The focus is to distract them from this anxiety and make them focus on something nice.”