Senior citizens may have to be cautious about socialising nowadays due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But with slight changes to their daily routine, they can still be active and remain connected to their friends.
Keeping active and engaged with others is particularly important as it helps their mental, emotional and physical well-being.
This is especially true for those living on their own or with just their partners, away from their children during the movement control order.
With this in mind, Universiti Malaya Medical Centre consultant geriatrician Prof Dr Tan Maw Pin organised a virtual stretching exercise session in June for a group of seniors living in SS20 Damansara, Petaling Jaya.
Prof Tan said residents were happy with the online session as they could keep up their exercise regime in the comfort of their own home.
Somehow, the online meet-up sparked a connection among its participants.
Residents, who took part, chose to stay in touch with each other and went on to expand their social circle as well as the variety of activities.
Datuk Koh Kia Lin and wife Datin Lim Ah Lan, both 72, led the group, conducting free online dance lessons for about 40 residents several times a week.
“We roped in some people we knew, who did line dancing before the MCO was implemented, for our online dance sessions.
“Our sessions take place in the morning and the seniors love it.
“It is a good bonding experience for seniors to dance with their spouses and peers virtually, ” said Lim, noting that it gave some of them a chance to learn how to dance.
“For beginners, we conduct online lessons on Saturdays and these are open to the public.
“We have friends joining in from other states such as Penang and Kedah, as well as foreign cities like Sydney and Perth in Australia these days, ” she added.
Lim and Koh are also the founders of a non-governmental organisation called Seniors Connect Group, which aims to promote physical, mental and social well-being among seniors.
The group goes hiking at Bukit Kiara Park once a week for some fresh air as well as to take a break from the virtual sessions on other days.
Fellow SS20 residents and married couple Eileen, 75, and Eddie Thong, 77, are among those participating in the online dance lessons.
“We enjoy these activities because they keep our mental and physical health in shape, ” said Eileen.
The duo also formed the SS20 family chat group, which has close to 160 neighbours offering support to one another.
The chat group even promotes home-based micro businesses.
“We may live in an urban area but we need the kampung spirit where people look out for one another.
“This group helps us to stay in touch and instead of buying things from elsewhere, we just buy from each other.
“This way, we support our own community, ” said Eileen.
According to her, close contact is not an issue here.
“We ask the sellers to place their items at a designated space on our porch so we can collect them later, ” she elaborated.
Incidentally, their house porch serves another purpose for her husband.
He has created a miniature golf course there as he no longer goes to a golf course to play the game.
Another Petaling Jaya resident, David Raymond, 76, who has a penchant for art, embarked on several artistic projects when the MCO took effect.
He converted a room in his house into an art studio and began creating miniature ships from recyclables and sculpting plaster.
“When the MCO was implemented, I could not go to church and I had a lot of time.
“So I learned how to access YouTube and later, learned to make sculptures as well as other oil paint-based artwork, ” he said, adding that he had been interested in oil painting and sculpting from a young age.
“I am also making these pieces to present them to my four grandchildren as an inheritance.
“Maybe someday, they will remember that I made these during the pandemic, ” said Raymond.
He is looking forward to the reopening of churches and hopes to be able to attend mass again.
Meanwhile, Agnes Anthony, 68, is single and lives alone in PPR Seri Semarak, Kuala Lumpur.
She is another person who misses going to church as restrictions are imposed under the conditional movement control order.
Luckily for her, Persatuan Kebajikan Usiamas Malaysia (Usiamas) volunteer Juliana Dewathe, 35, visits often to keep her company and cater to her needs.
“I have diabetes and I go to the hospital with the volunteers’ help.
“This pandemic is the reason lives have been lost and our freedom has been limited, ” said Anthony, who spends her free time reading the Bible.
Dewathe said the seniors looked forward to seeing the volunteers more during the pandemic.
“Volunteers help clear doubts that the seniors may have on the pandemic, ” she said.
“Some look depressed as they cannot go out freely out of fear of getting Covid-19.
“As volunteers, we too must exercise caution when visiting them, ” she added.
Based on Dewathe’s observation, she said neighbours no longer visited each other, especially within the PPR flats, as they did not want to risk exposing themselves to the virus.
Another Usiamas volunteer, Mohd Isa Sulaiman, 44, said senior citizens were sometimes afraid that the volunteers would stop visiting them during the conditional MCO.
“Some are single while others do not have their children nearby.
“Without us, they cannot be entirely independent especially during this pandemic.
“They need our help with grocery shopping or to go to the hospital, so we treat these seniors like our parents and help them as much as we can, ” he said.
He stressed that they were in the high-risk group with pre-existing illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
“Some have a negative outlook but we try to lift their spirits, ” said Mohd Isa.