by Melisse Ogilvie, Social Worker
Recently, there has been much discussion around the regulations for the reopening of places of worship during this Covid-19 pandemic.
The new regulations not only seek to ensure that worship is done safely, but challenges the way we fellowship with each other. Many people potentially adversely affected by these regulations are those 70 years and older.
For many in the elderly population, spirituality and religion are important components of their lives. Religion has been found to promote emotional well-being and provide a higher level of life satisfaction for people. It provides coping strategies through faith in God, having friends from church and participating in church activities. The absence of this could see a deterioration in the physical and emotional health of this population.
As the elderly contends with the decline in their physical abilities, loss of friends and relatives through death, they become vulnerable to low self- esteem. They also have to deal with the feeling of incompetence due to the loss of control over their own lives. Additionally, we also understand that environmental factors, such as reduced physical and mental activity, insecurity, the lack of someone to talk to, negative outlook and prolonged stress could speed up the aging process.
As a people, we all desire a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships. The place of worship provides this for many of us, including the elderly.
As long as we are in this pandemic, and there is a need for such regulations, this group of people will be at risk of loneliness and social isolation. It could compound some of the emotional concerns they experience as they age. A great concern would be for those who live alone and who do not have a way to stay connected to family and friends.
How do we get them to adjust to this new normal, given that they are also coping with the changes and challenges that this stage of life brings?
We could recognise that they need us to be present. As family and neighbours, we could make continued effort to call or visit them, while exercising the necessary protocols.
They also need us to be supportive and encouraging; understanding and patient with the likely changes in their moods. We should also offer gentle reassurance. We could give practical support by assisting them to run errands or stay connected to services.
Additionally, the challenge is for religious leaders to have more intentional, yet inclusive outreach programmes that connect people beyond the place of worship. Many of our elderly may not be able to participate in online services, therefore, creative ways need to be found to ensure that they continue to be involved.
As a society, let us continue to allow our elderly to experience their later years positively, in spite of the pandemic.
Pope Francis once said, “No elderly person should be like an, “exile” in our families. The elderly are a treasure for our society.” Let us consider and treat them as treasures.