Older people disproportionately affected by pandemic, study finds

One in five indicated they had not left their homes since introduction of restrictions

The study found that restrictions on older people introduced to limit the spread of Covid-19 and protect health led to increased social isolation, exclusion, loneliness and boredom. Photograph: iStock

The study found that restrictions on older people introduced to limit the spread of Covid-19 and protect health led to increased social isolation, exclusion, loneliness and boredom. Photograph: iStock

 

A new study has found that that “there has been an eclipsing of older people in the pandemic; their voices have been minimised and support systems impacted.”

It said a more robust health policy was needed to ensure any health (physical and/or mental) decline in older people was limited while management of information was also necessary to avoid overload/misinformation which could lead to psychological distress.

The study by researchers at the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Trinity College Dublin in partnership with Safeguarding Ireland took place between Januuary and March of this year.

It found that restrictions on older people introduced to limit the spread of Covid-19 and protect health led to increased social isolation, exclusion, loneliness and boredom, with negative impacts on their quality of life, as well as on physical and mental health, it said.

Over half of respondents in the study had “reduced their contact with family with one in five indicating that they had not left their homes since the introduction of restrictive measures. Sixty percent limited activities outside their homes.”

Many older people, particularly those over 80 years of age, did not have access to the internet and it was felt reasonable to conclude that “the very old and the most dependent suffered much greater social isolation, exclusion, loneliness, a reduced quality of life and mental and physical ill-health during the lockdowns”.

In general it found that “older people reported a general stoic approach to living in the pandemic and they demonstrated resilience in multiple ways.” They had made “substantial changes to their daily lives to comply with the Covid-19 shielding guidance”.

Post-pandemic rehabilitation would be required to focus on restoring their “lost physical ability and address the consequences of social isolation and loneliness,” it said, while there was also “a need to ensure that ageist approaches do not underpin guidance. The rights of autonomy and self-determination need to be central considerations in future similar crises.”

The study noted that figures from the Central Statistics Office, covering March 2020 to March 2021, indicated that 56 percent of Covid-related hospitalisations in Ireland were in the 65 years and older age group, while this cohort represented 87 per cent of deaths.

It noted that eight out of 10 Covid-19 deaths in the US were in the 65 years and over age groups, while in the UK, up until November 2020, nine out of 10 deaths were reported to be in the 65 years and older age groups.

In April 2021, it said, there was an estimated 742,300 older people living in Ireland - a rise of 112,500 since the 2016 census . The majority live in the Dublin region with the lowest number in the midlands. Most older people in Ireland live in a community environment with approximately 30,000 people in residential care, it said.