About 10,000 years ago, with the advent of the Agricultural Revolution, humans started to live in clans and closed groups, accumulated private properties, and started getting 'committed' or 'married'. The world of the ancient foragers changed as they moved from being hunter-gatherers to farmers. They began to live life as what we now call joint families.
What generalisations can we make about the family structures followed here in India? It seems safe to say that a majority of Indians live in a joint family setup similar to our ancestors who started this trend nearly 10,000 years ago. Some may argue that the scenario has seen a modest shift as urban Indians choose to live in a nuclear setup these days. While we can keep arguing on whether or not Indians are choosing to live in a joint or nuclear setup, what's important is to address the issue of how the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and lockdown-related rules and restrictions have forced most elderly to live in isolation.
From the likelihood of developing a more severe form of COVID-19 to the risks of isolation and mental health problems, older adults have taken the brunt of the pandemic. An online survey conducted in 2020 in India with over 5000 elderly respondents found that 69% of the respondents said their life was affected adversely due to the pandemic.
- 63.7% of elderly respondents were facing neglect in their life.
- 71% of elderly respondents said that cases of elder abuse have increased during the lockdown period.
- Among the 71% above, 58% claimed that interpersonal relationships were the main factor responsible for the fast increasing incidence of elder abuse in families.
Another information that comes as no surprise after the above statistics was an article published recently that highlighted how there was a 250% rise in calls received on elders’ helpline (1090) this year. The portal received a total of 515 calls during 2019, an average of 43 a month.
But the number shot up to 1,245 between January and August 2020,
with the monthly average at 156. These numbers are a mere reflection of the people who were able to dial 1090 and the estimated approximation for elderly abuse that must have gone unreported is higher.
How do we ensure our elderly parents or grandparents don't feel isolated or neglected at home during the pandemic?
The real story of the Indian family setup is complex and is rapidly evolving. We may still be living in a joint family set up but we exist independently or alone. Unlike a decade earlier, where most of the decisions were taken by the head of the family, families today have more autonomy and independence of taking their own decisions. Just like any other comparison, this arrangement - of living in a joint setup but existing alone - also has its pros and cons. The cons are more so, for the elderly, as they struggle to adjust themselves in this fast-paced and ever-evolving modern world.
Mental health & wellbeing
Older people may experience life stressors similar to any other age group, but also stressors that are more common in later life, like a significant ongoing loss in capacities and a decline in functional ability. For example, older adults may experience reduced mobility, chronic pain, frailty, or other health problems, for which they require some form of long-term care.
Scheduling a 5 minutes LOL session daily with your elderly parents or grandparents. This will not only benefit them but also benefit you when laughing will swipe cortisol with happy chemicals in the brain like dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. This 5-minute session can also help them and you in improving your immune functioning, cardiovascular health, sense of safety, and mood along with reducing stress, and anxiety.
You may also create a morning feel-good playlist for your parents or grandparents that consists of their and your favorite tunes/songs. This will help everyone in starting the day on a positive note and will uplift everyone's mood.
The survey mentioned earlier, also found that the most common way of elder abuse at home was - to be denied proper food and medical support, financial cheating, physical and emotional violence, and forcing the elderly to work.
- After every hour, get up from your work chair & take a walk for 5
- minutes with your parents or grandparents. These five minutes can be mutually beneficial for all of you.
- Stretching in the morning together to release muscle tension can prove to be vital.
How do we mindfully navigate through situations with our elderly parents or grandparents while working from home?
It is extremely important to establish some boundaries with the elderly at home while working. Let your elderly parents or grandparents know that even though you are home and life may seem different, your work responsibilities have not changed. Here are few hacks that will help you create boundaries at home:
- Provide them with visual cues - This will remind them when you can't be disturbed. For example, you are in your home office with the door shut, you have headphones on, or you are at your computer. This can be an indication for them of you being busy at work.
- After work, schedule some activities together. For example, cooking, watching television, cleaning, etc. This will help them feel loved and they keep away loneliness, the state of depression, feelings of isolation at bay.
How can our workplace help us with making sure we devote some of our time to our elderly parents and grandparents?
There will be times when you will be overwhelmed with the amount of work at hand from both the office and home. At times like these
- Over-communicating with coworkers and managers is the key here. Eldercare responsibilities are often invisible to your colleagues since we don't talk about it much at work. It is much more common and comfortable for people to talk about their children at work than it is to talk about aging and/or ill parents. So you cannot assume that your boss or peers know or understand your situation.
- Eldercare is also highly unpredictable and can therefore be highly disruptive to your workday. So tell your coworkers about your caregiving status and ask for their compassion during this time.
Every relationship requires time, care, and nurturing. Whether a nuclear family or joint, the amount of quality family time that we spend together is rapidly decreasing, and with COVID, the concerns around this are even higher. Make sure you consciously make an effort to be there for your family and especially the elders at home. After all, even 10,000 years ago when foragers started living in bands, one thing that saved them from predators or other forager bands was the sense of being united as a family. In the fight against COVID, we need to unite to fight coronavirus and this unity begins at home.
- Disintegration of the joint family system, emergence of nuclear family
- Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
- Beyond Joint and Nuclear: The Indian Family Revisited
- Why Indians continue to live in joint families
- Modernization and Household Composition in India, 1983–2009