Although staying at home as much as possible is the best way to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19, it has led to other serious physical and mental health problems in older people, says charity Age UK .
Many older people are understandably deeply afraid of the coronavirus, leading to stress, uncertainty and loneliness. And months of confinement at home have aggravated the physical problems of some, says charity which interviewed nearly 2,000 seniors and their relatives.*
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: “This pandemic has accelerated the aging of millions of older people.” Helping them through this winter requires a collective effort, the right policies and government support, especially for those who are shielding themselves, isolating themselves or who lack a strong network of family and friends.
Afraid to leave the house
As older people are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill with the coronavirus, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the pandemic has taken an emotional toll. The Age UK report found that more than a third of respondents said they felt more anxious than six months ago. These feelings can have real consequences and lead seniors to feel even more isolated.
Many older people said that even in the summer, when restrictions were eased, they were too scared to go out. And nearly half of people over the age of 70 said they were “uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” about leaving their homes because of the pandemic.
Depression and self-neglect
Some older people have told the charity they no longer enjoy activities they used to enjoy – a hallmark symptom of depression. In some cases, the bad mood even led to self-neglect, with the elderly not washing, eating, or cleaning their homes.
One respondent said his older relative stopped eating during the pandemic when he couldn’t see his friends. He said: “I have a feeling he is now suffering from deep depression.”
Older people should not have to suffer in silence. If you’ve been feeling depressed for several weeks, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP.
Low energy and walking problems
We can all feel tired during the pandemic. But lethargy can be a real problem for older people who may already struggle with low energy levels. Exhaustion can have a real impact on daily tasks, such as getting dressed, showering and preparing meals. A third of older people surveyed by Age UK said they had less energy than six months ago.
One respondent, who reported new symptoms of lethargy, weakness and walking problems in the past six months, said she felt her ‘life had been cut short’. Another said that not being able to exercise she usually did made her osteoporosis worse and led to her suffering a fractured vertebra.
Worryingly, one in four seniors said they were unable to walk as far as they could before the pandemic. And one in five feel less stable on their feet.
These figures are not good news. Falls are already common later in life and can cause serious injuries. Even a light trip can leave someone losing confidence and becoming less independent.
Many falls in older people occur for reasons that may be “preventable”. But the are a few simple things you can do to reduce the risk of falls.
Four Ways Seniors Can Stay Healthy This Winter
Winter can be especially difficult for older people. As we age, we feel the cold more often and are more likely to develop cold-related health problems, such as frostbite, hypothermia, and respiratory problems.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this winter could be trickier than normal, but there are things you can do to make sure you’re as safe and comfortable as possible.
1. Stay up to date with coronavirus advice
It can be troubling when official coronavirus advice keeps changing. But we’re here to provide you with up-to-date advice on what you can do to stay safe and avoid feeling isolated during this difficult time.
2. Stay warm and eat regularly
Keeping warm can help you stay healthy. Heat your bedroom and living room to a comfortable temperature. Try to eat at least one hot meal a day.
Age UK recommends if you struggle with large meals, try eating little and often. Also, be sure to drink plenty of fluids.
3. Exercise gently
Staying active can help you stay independent and healthy as you age. It can even boost your energy level.
It might be harder to get out and about right now, but there are plenty of gentle workouts you can try from home. Staying active will also generate heat to keep you warm on cold days.
4. Get your flu shot
If you are over 65, you are entitled to a free flu shot to reduce the risk of nasty illness in winter. This year, the flu vaccination will also help reduce the pressure on health and care systems in the face of the coronavirus.
Don’t be nervous about receiving the jab. Rest assured that medical practices and pharmacies have made changes to ensure patient safety.
*The research consisted of a UK social media survey in August of nearly 570 people and rRepresentative online survey of 1,364 people over 60 conducted by Kantar Polling in September 2020.