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Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental and Physical Health of Older Adults
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Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental and Physical Health of Older Adults

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Highlights:
  • Increased loneliness reported in older adults over 70 years according to study by ALONE and TILDA
  • Increased loneliness linked to public health measures like social distancing and cocooning
  • ALONE’s helplines provide support for the elderly
  • A future study by TILDA and ALONE to observe the impact of the pandemic on the older adults

ALONE and TILDA observed an increase in loneliness, anxiety and social isolation in older adults over 70 years during the pandemic.

Several measures were introduced by the Government and Health Department to prevent the spread of the virus. They included physical distancing and lockdowns for self-isolation and these measures affected the older adults, mainly those over 70 as their daily routines were disrupted.

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Most of them could not socialize with their family and friends. This social distancing and other public health measures to curb the spread of the virus may be responsible for the increase in loneliness.

Which Organizations Conducted the Study?

The study was conducted by two organizations- Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) and age charity 'A Little Offering Never Ends' (ALONE) that was established in 1977 by Willie Bermingham.

TILDA is a nationally representative large-scale longitudinal study which aims to make Ireland the best place for people to grow old. They collect information from people aged over 50, every two years, on topics such as physical and mental health, economic and social factors. They provide overall insights into loneliness and social isolation in older adults.
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ALONE is a charity that seeks to help elderly people living on their own who may feel isolated and lonely, and to 'connect [them] with the necessary support services in their community.'

ALONE helped the seniors by distributing smartphones and by remotely handling the helplines. A separate helpline was also initiated to address the needs of older adults.

What are the Measures Taken by ALONE During the Pandemic?

ALONE has a support and telephone befriending service. During the pandemic, they continued to operate the service remotely with the help of volunteers who were calling and sending regular texts to older people. They shared valuable health care tips and well-being tips, along with practical supports.

They also took the initiative of distributing around 500 smartphones to older adults so that they could be able to interact with their friends or family members socially.

As ALONE saw an increase in the number of calls from older adults, they established a dedicated phone service for them. They mainly provided help and services to vulnerable older adults who needed them.

What does ALONE's Research Report During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

  • An increased feeling of loneliness and isolation was reported amongst many older people during the pandemic.
  • During the period from March 9th to July 5th, 2020 ALONE national support line had received 26,174 calls
  • 55% of the callers were old adults over 70 years
  • 75% of callers were adults living alone
  • Increase in callers putting off medical examination or treatment.
  • Most often requested support was for their physical, mental and emotional, befriending health needs.

What did TILDA's Research Observe before the Pandemic?

TILDA compared the data from older adults overall, living alone and living with others. The study shows that most older adults were not often lonely before the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Overall, about 70% of TILDA participants reported that they never or rarely felt lonely. Less than 25% of the participants reported that they felt lonely at times, while just 5% of them reported that they felt lonely often.
  • TILDA's study of older adults living alone at home found that 31% were rarely lonely, 32% were lonely at times, and 37% of them were often lonely.
  • TILDA's study of older adults living with other found that 49% of them are rarely lonely, 30% are sometimes lonely, and 21% are often lonely.

What is the Reason for this Loneliness?

There have been previous reports that show that strong social interactions protect people from issues such as physical disability, emotional distress and cognitive decline. Loneliness and social isolation are linked to poor quality of life. They may cause harm to the physical and psychological well-being of the person.

The recent measures like social distancing and cocooning to curb the spread of coronavirus has a negative impact on old adults. It has increased the levels of loneliness and social isolation, especially in those older adults who socialize with their communities or church groups.

Conclusion

ALONE's research proves that public health measures have taken a toll on older people resulting in increased feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety. The impact of loneliness should be addressed by developing public policies by the government.

TILDA, along with ALONE also plans to conduct a future research project to document the impact of the pandemic on the general well-being and health of older adults.

Reference :
  1. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) - (https://www.doi.org/10.38018/TildaRe.2020-07)


Source: Medindia

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