Connecting with Lolo and Lola in a pandemic

Published September 12, 2021, 7:03 AM

by Jane Kingsu-Cheng

With the ongoing pandemic and scarcity of available vaccines, senior citizens (mostly grandparents) and children below 18 years old have been cooped up at home for more than 18 months.

EVERYDAY IS SPECIAL WITH GRANDMA AND GRANDPA Francisco and Silveria Tanganim spending time with their grandchildren outside their home at Baseco, Manila. The image was taken before the pandemic (Kevin Tristan Espiritu)

Living with both age category groups in one house, especially during this unprecedented situation that we are in, is a blessing, but it also has its fair challenges. Peace and quiet are far and in between, which can be frustrating for those who work at home. But the upside to this is that grandparents can help take care of the kids as the parents go about their busy schedules.

Families who aren’t fortunate enough to share the same home have to make that extra effort to reach out to their loved ones, more so for those with elders who aren’t tech savvy to order online for everyday essentials. Regular virtual calls to check on them have become a staple in routine.

Whatever the setup is, we all share the same concern—the wellbeing of our grandparents/senior citizens should be part of our topmost priorities.

On good health

On a local government level (LGU), the city of San Juan has been active in taking care of its senior citizens. Their Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) works together with the national government by mounting activities and programs such as one-day Healthy Lifestyle activities to promote fitness for the elderly. These activities include Zumba, ground golf, and parlor games at Pinaglabanan Shrine. They also have their annual Elderly Week celebration, where thousands of senior citizens would participate.

Apart from physical activities, which have been cancelled this 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, the San Juan LGU is still running their administrative support program for the elderly by distributing medical assistance to sick indigent senior citizens as spearheaded by the Office of the Mayor and the City Health Office.

As for the vaccination program, Mayor Francis Zamora makes sure that the elderly are given extra attention. In special cases where the senior citizen is bedridden, a team would be mobilized to visit the home to complete the individual’s vaccination requirements.

Apart from all of these efforts, the San Juan LGU expressed their concern of this age category’s mental health and welfare which is why their OSCA is relentless in making sure that all senior citizens get access to whatever they need during this prolonged lockdown. Social pension, free hospitalization in San Juan Medical Center, funeral services or cremation, medical and hospital services in both private and public hospitals are also part of the San Juan LGU’s scope of responsibilities.

On mental welfare

Czel Gonzales, program director of mental health institution One Algon Place Foundation, affirms that it’s important that the wellbeing of the elderly is taken care of. “Eat healthy food, take medicines, sleep well, get vaccinated, and engage in physical activities such as walking around the house. If they are not mobile, probably word hunt or games that will challenge their brain can help.”

ELDERLY CARE Program director of mental health institutio, Czel Gonzales

A 66-year-old housing consultant, Asuncion S. Martinez makes sure she is productive despite being at home. “Surprisingly, my workload now is not my normal load. I think I have more projects now than before. I work from afternoon up to midnight and wake up close to lunchtime, thus only one complete meal which is at lunchtime. I follow a diet program. What I don’t consistently do is my daily exercise, but I walk around the house every day. This is what I need to prioritize now,” reveals the senior citizen

Then, there is the importance of psychological communication. As Gonzales stresses, “Asking for their thoughts on what’s going on in this pandemic will give you an idea on how they think of fear or anxiety. Give them assurance as much as possible. Do not share information that will bother them but be realistic that, if it happens, what preparation would be done?” Prevention and providing solutions will always be better versus facing problems with fear and shock. “Kindness, love, and authentic concern will make them calm. Seek professional help if needed.”

For socialization, she suggests having regular online video calls so that the grandchildren can even perform for them. “Small gestures are important for the wellbeing of the elderly,” adds Gonzales.  Ciara Serumgard, who lives in California, makes sure they set aside time on a weekly basis to call her parents, Zaldy, 71, and Carina, 70, who are residing in Manila. “We miss each other very much and each family member clears the Saturday morning schedule to make it to our weekly ‘Zoomies,’ a virtual family get-together. My parents are incredibly hands-on and love conversing with my young sons,” the mother-of-two proudly shares.

Spiritual growth is always a good idea. “Attending mass and praying together with the family helps. “Bible studies, sharing of thoughts, and listening to their advice validates them. It helps to boost their self-esteem,” explains Gonzales.

The mental health advocate and program director ends the exclusive interview by reminding everyone that, aside from making sure the elders have all the tangible needs to keep them healthy and safe, mental and emotional wellbeing are equally important. “Reach out and establish open communication lines. Kindness and compassion are highly valued now, more than ever, especially for our dear elders.”