Now we’re approaching a serious second wave of Covid we need to be ready for a harsh winter facing older people. This challenge is against a backdrop of persistent calls to lock older people away so the rest of society can get moving. But what are the lessons from what happened earlier this year and are we prepared to help older people in the coming months.
Key is how did older people fare during lock down and did the ending of lockdown lead to improvement. A new survey from Age UK (https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/health–wellbeing/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-older-people_age-uk.pdf )makes for sombre reading.
It paints a stark picture of many older people staying at or close to home and restricting their normal behaviour but crucially less confident of leaving home and seeing family and friends. The statistics are dramatic – 37 % of over 70s surveyed in September had over a seven-day period not left home or left only for exercise, basic needs, or health reasons. And 45 per cent were uncomfortable or very uncomfortable about leaving their house because of the pandemic. For older people who traditionally rely on public transport – over two thirds were less confident using public transport and the same lack of confidence applies to shopping and health appointments. The evidence also shows many suffered from reduced physical health being cooped up leading to health problems in the future. But they also suffered from a cocktail of problems – poor diet, isolation, a lack of mental simulation, anxiety and in some cases onset of dementia.
These findings chime with a survey of older Londoners conducted by Independent Age, looking at experience of lockdown in August. This showed older people being well informed – knowing what to do following the rules and guidance, but again worried about the impact of Covid and the negative effects of their social lives. But this survey also highlighted a concerning trend of the negative language about older people experienced – 42 per cent had noticed negative references in the media to older people in relation to coronavirus.
All this points to a group of older people who are stoical, follow the rules and are in one sense surviving yet with the constant threat of Covid. But the future is uncertain about when lives will go back to some sense of normality. In the meantime, the questions are how they can be best supported and how can their confidence and resilience be helped from low base. Positive Ageing in London is lobbying the London Recovery Board to ensure that older Londoners are helped now, and their concerns are taken on board rather than being forgotten. The big risk is older people are forgotten and left behind in whatever recovery happens. It would be helpful to hear your concerns and suggestions so we can make the best case to decision makers – please email firstname.lastname@example.org.