With millions of senior citizens in Turkey confined to their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic, Turkish authorities are ensuring their daily needs are met swiftly and help is just a phone call away.
To protect the public from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Interior Ministry has restricted the movement of people older than 65, and mobilized support groups to help them during the self-isolation period.
Senior citizens can contact the police or other groups through dedicated hotlines to convey their needs.
Social assistance groups, made up of officials from the police, gendarmerie, and disaster relief agency, then bring them whatever they need, including food, household goods, or even pension payments.
According to the ministry, to date the support groups have assisted more than one million people.
Among the millions of elderly people in self-isolation is Osman Kurtulan, 66, a retired salesman who has been living alone for a decade after his wife passed away.
“At first I didn’t like the idea of being confined to my house. But I know I have some breathing problems and this virus is more dangerous for people like me, an old man with health problems,” he said.
He said the greatest challenge of self-isolation is loneliness, something he has experienced since his wife died and his children moved out.
“You know, my sons would call me every two weeks before this virus. Now that they know I’m stuck at home all alone, they’re calling every day. Ironically, this virus has had a positive impact on our relations,” he said.
Kurtulan said he was initially worried by the coronavirus outbreak but felt better knowing that the police and healthcare workers were always available to help him.
“I haven’t had the need to call the authorities yet as I have everything at home and my health is stable. But it’s great to know that help is always just a phone call away.”
Time to reach out
Aytac Komsucu, a psychologist with seven years’ experience in the field, said elderly people often have a fear of death and loneliness, and the pandemic could add to their anxiety.
He said now it is more important for relatives and friends to reach out to the elderly.
“Fear of death is a common issue among the elderly, and any sort of health problem, whether it’s something serious or just a common cold, can trigger an emotional response,” said Komsucu.
He explained that self-isolation is tougher for the elderly as it is more challenging for older people to change their daily habits, such as going to mosques or churches or gathering with friends at public places.
“The younger generation must help them through this time; we need to see this crisis as an opportunity for us to develop closer relations with our elders,” said Komsucu.
He said the Health Ministry’s move to provide counseling services over the phone is important given the uncertainty the pandemic has caused among the elderly.
According to Komsucu, high stress levels can lead to fatigue and insomnia among the elderly, weakening the immune system and making recovery even more difficult.
Turkey’s timely response and preventative measures have helped it contain the COVID-19 outbreak to some extent, but the death toll rose to 649 on Monday and cases went past 30,000.
Nearly 1.35 million cases have been reported around the globe since the virus emerged in Wuhan, China, last December, while the death toll is almost 75,000, and recoveries stand over 285,000, according to data compiled by the U.S.' Johns Hopkins University.