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Funny how time slips away! It felt as if it was only a few months ago that the International Day of Older Persons 2019 was celebrated. Well, believe it or not October 1st 2020 is upon us and the theme for this year is Pandemics–Do they change how we address age and aging? The answer to that is a big YES!

The COVID-19 pandemic is probably the most challenging singular event in the 21st century to impact our senior citizens in every aspect of their health and well being.

Recently I paid a visit to the Gerontology Department at the St James Medical Complex as a patient myself. There I was able to obtain and exchange some valuable information with one of the senior staff members of this distinguished institution, some of which is dealt with in the following paragraphs.

The four pillars of healthy aging are: physical health, mental health, social well-being and economic well-being, all of which are affected by this pandemic.

With regard to physical health, older persons, especially those with chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, are more likely to suffer severe illness if they become infected with the virus. Therefore, their very lives are at risk.

Mental health is also adversely affected. The loss of their daily routines, the lack of physical contact with family and friends, the loneliness, the fear of getting ill from the virus and having to die alone, are just some of the factors that can precipitate anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.

Loss of employment for those who may still have been working and reduced income support from family, who may have lost jobs themselves, can create financial hardship. Some older persons may not be technologically equipped to stay socially connected and with less care and support available their social well being can deteriorate to a great extent.

We as a nation must respond to these issues and develop short- to long-term plans for our older population to ensure that they can survive this pandemic, alive and in good spirits. This requires personal commitment on the part of family, friends and neighbours to assist older persons in small ways.

It also requires a broader collaborative approach through government ministries. In particular, the Ministry of Health and the Division of Aging in the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services.

Associations that deal with mental health such as the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists (TTAP) and the Association of Psychiatrists of Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago Residential Care Association (TTRCA), Trinidad and Tobago Association of a Retired Persons (TTARP) and the Association of Responsible Persons; faith based organisations, the Supermarkets Association of Trinidad and Tobago, advocates for older persons and any other relevant organisation or corporate body that is interested must join together.

While many of these entities are already doing their part to assist older persons in this time of crisis, sometimes when all hands are on deck the effort is magnified.

Maybe it is time for a task force to be appointed to specifically address the issues pertaining to older persons in the time of COVID-19 because from all observations it will be with is for years to come.

COVID-19 has shown that a substantial number of our elders are succumbing to this virus but with no statistical data available to give a genuine figure, we will only be indulging in conjecture. Are our elders in good hands? That is the question we must all ask ourselves.

As always, the International Day of Older Persons must be considered noteworthy. It shows that society must be considering the wellbeing of these folks and the concept that getting old, with the Lord’s permission, is inevitable. It is imperative that we dig deep into our souls and place our emphasis on the way we treat our elders.

Our ancestors must be debating how we got to this stage. Is it due to our lack of ethical and moral standards? It is therefore wise that we express good deeds now so if or when our turn comes we will be prepared for any eventuality.

In concluding, I wish to extend sincere greetings to the elderly community and most importantly to the staff of the Gerontology department of the St James Medical Complex for their sterling contribution and dedicated service to our elders.

You will be rewarded with blessings and your deposits into the bank of kindness will surely be profitable.

Wash your hands, wear your mask, and please keep your social distance.

In the spirit of growth.