Pandemic leaving ‘deep physical and emotional scars’ on large proportion of older population, charity warns

By Helen Johnson
Saturday, 31st July 2021, 9:35 am
Immobility, loneliness and an inability to grieve as normal due to the Covid pandemic is leaving “deep physical and emotional scars” on a large proportion of the UK’s older population, a charity has said (Photo: Shutterstock)

Immobility, loneliness and an inability to grieve as normal due to the Covid pandemic is leaving “deep physical and emotional scars” on a large proportion of the UK’s older population, a charity has said.

Around a quarter of older people were unable to walk as far or were living in more physical pain earlier this year compared to the start of the Covid pandemic, new research suggests.

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According to polling carried out for Age UK, people reported being less steady on their feet, struggling to manage the stairs and feeling less independent since the pandemic first began.

Some 1,487 people aged 60 and over in the UK were polled by Kantar Polling between 28 January and 11 February 2021, which coincided with the third national Covid lockdown.

Extrapolated to the UK population, the findings suggest that millions of older people have seen their health decline following multiple lockdowns, social distancing measures, the loss of routines and support, and limited access to services.

Struggling to walk, cognitive decline and decrease in confidence

Research found that some 27% of adults aged 60 and over said they could no longer walk as far, while 25% said they were in more pain than before.

Evidence of accelerated cognitive decline was also found, with more than a fifth (22%) of respondents saying that they were finding it harder to remember things.

Age UK also found that some people living with a mental health condition saw their symptoms worsen, while others were feeling depressed or anxious for the first time.

More than a third (36%) of respondents said they were feeling more anxious since the start of the pandemic, and 43% said they were less motivated to do the things that they enjoy.

Alongside this, almost a fifth (18%) of those surveyed said they felt less confident leaving the house alone.

This is in comparison to 26% of older people from ethnic minority backgrounds, who were also less confident getting out and about, accessing health services or receiving support at home.

The charity now fears that the adverse effects may prove long-lasting and in some cases be irreversible, potentially putting pressure on NHS and social care services over the coming years.

‘Haven’t moved out of the house for months on end’

People also gave more detail about their struggles during the pandemic through an online survey, which received 14,840 responses.

One respondent said: “Haven’t moved out of the house for months on end. Can’t even make it up the stairs now (previously no problem at all).”

Another participant said: “Some days very down, don’t bother to get washed and dressed, what’s the point.”“I get panicky when l have to go out in public, l have nightmares about being out in a crowd and no-one is wearing a mask,” another person said.

Age UK’s charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said it may take some time for older people to rebuild their confidence, urging people to “keep supporting the older people in your lives.”

She said: “Our research found that earlier this year, immobility, deconditioning, loneliness, and an inability to grieve as normal, were leaving deep physical and emotional scars on a significant proportion of our older population.

“It’s too soon to know for certain how many older people can ‘bounce back’ from the pandemic but at the very least it will be tough, and they are going to need all the help they can get.

“The implications are clear: Government must give our physical and mental health and social care services enough additional resources to meet older people’s increased, pandemic-related needs.”