Covid-19: Doctors seeing ‘angst and loneliness’ in older people forced to cocoon

Geriatrician says half the patients he has seen lately have depression and anxiety

Doctors are encountering ‘angst and loneliness’ among older people forced to cocoon for long periods during the coronavirus pandemic, the president of the Irish College of General Practitioners has said. Photograph: Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images.

Doctors are encountering “angst and loneliness” among older people forced to cocoon for long periods during the coronavirus pandemic, with a consultant saying more than half of his patients are suffering from depression and anxiety.

Dr Rónán Collins, a consultant in geriatrics at Tallaght Hospital, said many patients were reporting that their memory had declined as a result of social isolation and issues with their mobility due to doing less exercise.

He said the restrictions introduced to slow the spread of the virus were “building up a collateral damage” and people of all ages should be trusted “to make judicious decisions” with how they go about their lives.

Dr Collins said he was opposed to “age-related cocooning” and that health authorities needed to consider the broader risks posed by the restrictions.

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“I don’t think you can treat everyone over-70 as a homogeneous group,” he told RTÉ Radio One.

“Many over 70s are working, they have businesses, they are active members of society, and while older age in itself is a risk for mortality from Covid-19 , it is not the greatest single risk factor for death from Covid-19.

“The majority of older people who do contract this illness survive it.

“I think we can get swayed by the mortality and the very sad story in our nursing homes, but it must be remembered that the population who may be resident in nursing homes is not reflective of any age specific population in general.”

Wider goals

While he agreed with a slow and cautious approach to easing the lockdown restrictions, Dr Collins said wider goals in society needed to be taken into account “other than just the death rate from Covid-19”.

“Clearly if we have a very deep recession, that will bring healthcare problems itself, and if we have a very deep recession and economic crash, we will have no money to have health services,” he said. “So there are longer term implications here in the goals and roads we take.”

Allowing grandchildren to see grandparents would be a welcome move, he said, with studies in Australia and China suggesting younger children “do not particularly transmit this virus”. That “is not to say there are no cases” but that “transmission is particularly low”, Dr Collins added.

Dr Mary Favier, president of the Irish College of General Practitioners and a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team, said family doctors are also witnessing the impact of “angst and loneliness” on older people forced to cocoon for prolonged periods.

Pod

She said the advice to them as restrictions are eased will be to choose a small “pod of people up to six” with whom they can start to slowly socialise with outside.

“We are going to have to move to a situation in society where individual groups assess their own risk… because it is going to be a long issue,” she added.

Dr Favier said some older people were “raring to go” while others might be little more cautious and need “gentle encouragement to get out there and re-engage with society”.

She said testing and tracing for Covid-19 in Ireland “is not as good as it could be” but that it had improved in the past two or three weeks.