Helping the elderly survive in Russia’s old people’s homes

The situation in Russian old people’s homes and how the elderly can be helped to survive the coronavirus


The experience of Israel, which has been providing best protection for elderly people in geriatric institutions during the pandemic, could be useful in informing Russia’s current response to the crisis.

Coronavirus infections in Russian old people’s homes began nearly a month ago. One of the first occurred in a residential home for the elderly and people with disabilities in Vyazma where more than 250 residents and carers were isolated on the orders of Smolensk’s regional governor, Aleksey Ostrovsky, when a member of staff was diagnosed with the disease.

No limits to the suffering

The charity Happiness in Old Age has been involved in the running of an old people’s home in Vyazma for more than seven years. On 2 May, its founder, Elizaveta Oleskina, wrote that “Everyone is getting sick and there seems no end in sight to the suffering. There are dozens of examples of what is happening in Vyazma all over Russia. Each day sees the disease affecting more and more old people’s homes and Psycho-Neurological Residential Institutions (PRNIs)”.

“Once one person contracts the virus, everyone becomes infected. We already have our full share of “covids”. Our homes have been cherished for many years, having at times fought off optimisation and closure, with dozens of old people living comfortably there. We have had “experimental” old people’s homes and PNRIs properly staffed providing care and equipped with all the right technology, as well as large residential facilities where it was always difficult to get things done quickly even during normal times. Now we are having to dash around trying to save people”, wrote Oleskina.

In her post, Oleskina highlighted the current situation in old people’s homes in Mordovia, Nizhny Novgorod, Bryansk, Kaluga and Moscow regions. In one home, 20 out of 30 residents were infected. “In a Novoslobod old people’s home in Kaluga oblast with whom we have worked closely for many years, nearly half of residents (30 out of 68) have been infected, together with a number of people in hospital and 10 carers”, she wrote.

Protection in old people’s homes

When reports started circulating about the situation in the Vyazma residential home in April, the Snob magazine published an article on old people’s home mortality rates in various countries. It stated that between 42% and 57% of all coronavirus deaths in Italy, Belgium, Spain and the Irish Republic had occurred in geriatric institutions.

According to the magazine, Israel has introduced a highly effective system for protecting the elderly. It spoke to Claudia Konson, a member of Israel’s Ministry of Health and international geriatric consultant, who explained how elderly care home residents can be protected from the virus. She prefers a disciplined approach over medication in halting the spread of the disease (which currently has no cure), adding that “only responsibility for one’s fellow citizens and strict adherence to the rules really works”.

According to Konson, it is vital that medical staff adhere to strict rules. “All of us who work with coronavirus travel to our shifts by car. On arrival at hospital, our shoes are soaked in alcohol. We change clothes in a clean and uncontaminated area before starting work. We put on new gowns and masks after treating each infected patient and change around 30 times a day.

Once the shift is over, we return to the uncontaminated area, change into our normal clothes, get into our cars and drive home”.

A lot of extra help is needed if one member of staff goes down with the disease, says Konson. “Large numbers of people therefore need to be trained quickly to look after the elderly, many of whom are suffering with dementia as well as other illnesses”, she said.

People are needed to do the cleaning. According to Konson, soldiers in Israel remove waste material and take care of laundry. “In our country, the unemployed are another source of help, a million of whom are currently not receiving a wage. As a result, within two to three weeks they are unable to feed and support their families so we take them on straight away and provide training for them.  In my view, a similar approach needs to be taken in Russia as a matter of urgency”, she added. Source:

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