Churches are in a good position to respond to the rights and needs of older people in direct conversation with them, and to advocate for them, given the community access, goodwill and social trust of faith leaders. Because older people are at higher risk of complications from Covid-19 (new coronavirus disease), protecting them is vital. Engaging with older people is a key challenge for faith leaders and congregations: it calls for active and holistic engagement.
Of course, this is a very diverse group. No two people over 60 years of age are the same. Some older people are very active, mobile and still working. Older people are unique individuals who, during this pandemic, will each benefit from kindness and support that is carefully weighed and tailored to them.
Here are ten practical ways churches everywhere, but particularly in low-resource settings, can support older people in their community during the Covid-19 pandemic:
Visiting at a distance or staying in contact by phone
In line with government advice, visits may now only be possible at a distance of at least two metres. It would be beneficial for in-person visits to be replaced with frequent phone calls to older people. Some older people may not have a phone, in which case church members may be able to help by lending them phones.
Fetching water for older people
Having access to water is now particularly important because of the need for frequent handwashing and increased hygiene. Older people may need help to fetch a sufficient quantity of water for themselves, especially if the water source is at some distance from their dwelling. Good handwashing routines with soap several times a day are vitally important for everyone.
Delivering shopping, basic supplies and medicines
It is important for older people to have sufficient stocks of basic supplies, including food and medicine, in case of or during self-isolation. This should include staple foods such as pulses, grains and cooking oil; any medicines that they take regularly; and basic medicines including painkillers such as paracetamol. Older people may need support to maintain these supplies in their homes, and it will help them to reduce their risk of infection if others shop for them and then deliver it.
Sending a trusted younger person to collect pensions and other government benefits on behalf of an older person
Pay points where older people collect pensions or other cash payments present a risk of exposure to the virus as these locations may be crowded and visited by many different people. This risk can be avoided if older individuals are able to have their pensions collected by younger church or community members whom they trust.
Voluntary cultivation of land and help with the sale of cultivated goods
This will help protect the livelihoods of older people. However, we all need to follow government guidelines in terms of movements and work during this pandemic.
‘Churches are in a good position to speak up for older people and challenge discrimination and exclusion, and to speak with church and community members, as well as take specific actions.’
Offering moral, emotional and spiritual support
Isolation and loneliness may exacerbate existing mental health conditions, including dementia. Church members could offer new forms of moral and spiritual support, such as prayer and scripture-reading over the phone.
Making gifts of food or cooked meals and organising one-off community collections for medications
This will be important when older people fall ill, and could be life-saving. If older individuals need it, help to cover the costs of health insurance and medication is now vital. They may also benefit from having others organise and deliver a community collection of their medication from a pharmacy.
Providing news and information
Some older people may not have a TV or radio, or access to digital resources, and therefore rely on church and community members for timely and accurate information on Covid-19. Church members can help with setting up technology or providing radios to older people so that they can listen to the news and benefit from broadcasting of religious programmes. Recorded sermons, books or audio books would also be helpful resources.
Speaking with and up for older people
When older people are disadvantaged or discriminated against in our communities, we can all find different ways to speak up for them, while not forgetting to speak with them regularly as well.
What to do when someone falls ill and offering transport to hospital
If you suspect someone may have Covid-19, you should ask them to stay at home and isolate themselves from their household members as much as possible. You should also contact your local health facility and follow the advice you are given. If you are advised to take an older person to a health facility or hospital, avoid using public transport. If masks are available, both the older person and those accompanying them should wear one.
The content of this blog has been extracted from Guidance for churches on how to support older people during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can find more information in this manual and a summary document and poster are available. These resources have been developed by Tearfund’s Impact and Effectiveness Team, and are a piece of ‘evidence translation’, drawing insights from emerging research across the sector, including research conducted by the University of Birmingham and Tearfund in Rwanda on Ageing in Rwanda.
If you have comments and feedback on these resources, we would like to hear from you. We would particularly like you to share stories of how you have used the resources in your context. Please contact the Impact and Effectiveness Team or the Covid-19 Response Unit.
For safe ways of connecting with others during the current crisis please look at our dedicated Covid-19 page.