Isolation Series: Taking care of your grandparents during Coronavirus
Written by Indy Sira
There’s no doubt that the past few weeks have been more than just a strange passing moment in time for many across the world. Many have had to rather reluctantly embrace the unknown as their new norm, whilst we collectively battle a virus that is silently ravaging the lives of so many vulnerable people in our society.
Those being predominantly impacted by this unforgiving virus tend to be older and more vulnerable people with underlying health conditions who are now having to be increasingly vigilant and careful of their surroundings. The angst, the fear, the unknown is definitely harrowing and can contribute towards a rollercoaster of emotions that rattle your mental health.
But, what does this moment in time actually feel and look like for the older generation from a South Asian background and how can we help them?
I currently live in a Panjabi extended family, which includes my grandparents who are over the age of 70 with varied underlying health conditions. My grandmother suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and my grandfather has severe heart conditions. To say that this has been a difficult period of adjustment for them would be an understatement.
As I sat with my grandfather a week ago to help him explain what this current situation meant for him, he silently mutters ‘does this mean I can no longer see anyone?’ I pause for a second to make sure I’m able to be as reassuring but honest as possible. Except, what I realise in that moment is just how much of an impact it will be having on both his mental and emotional state.
During the past few days, he’s had to self-isolate himself from a few family members as a precautionary measure and he is definitely finding it challenging to keep himself preoccupied amidst all this uncertainty. It can easily become an overwhelming experience, but it is important that we are able to support him with being able to share his emotions and to communicate how he is feeling day to day. Despite the anxieties attached to the physical impact the virus may have, the prevalent worry is for him to not be able to talk about the impact it is having on his mental health.
A big question that has loomed over me during the past week is, how do we ensure that we create a space where we can foster our grandparents to be able to be more open and honest about their mental health during these strange times? Moreover, it’s understanding how we can support them to overcome the negative stigma attached to speaking about their mental health confidently. As found by the Mental Health Foundation, those identifying as Asian or Asian British are one third less likely to be in contact with mental health services (1). One factor attached to this is due to the cultural perceptions of mental health.
There’s definitely not one solution to this thought but it’s necessary to consider and question for the sake of those who require that extra support to express themselves. With a bit of creativity and luck, I have been able to have that conversation with my grandparents, which has been such a refreshing experience (and something I should do more often!). It simply starts with actively having daily conversations with them and finding out how you could help them with pursuing their interests indoors. That could range from exercising to knitting but they are assured that we can help them throughout that process.
A huge celebratory moment has been to help my grandparents with the anxiety they face when using digital devices. It might be a straightforward process for us, but it can have a positive impact on them knowing that they can now connect with others and even access online classes which they may have been previously unaware of. It has even been found that multigenerational households can reduce loneliness and stress levels and facilitate adjustment to new situations (2). If you do happen to live with your grandparents, reach out to them and start that conversation.
This situation depends on how we perceive it and I have definitely learnt a lot about myself, but most importantly I started to re-connect with my grandparents, which has helped me to start building a healthy relationship with them.
I have in turn learnt more about them than ever before, despite living with them since I was a child, which I’m so grateful for.
The road ahead may not be clear or easy, but I know we have so much to be thankful for. I keep learning every day from my grandparents, who remind me to keep a smile on my face during this difficult time. If you know of a loved one who is isolated, do reach out to them, even if that’s picking up the phone and giving them a call to make sure they are doing well. Most importantly, do not forget to take care of yourself whilst helping those near and dear to you!