ALONE, the organisation which supports older people, has cautioned that current COVID-19 cocooning measures will have long term effects on the physical health and wellbeing of older people across the country. The organisation is concerned that current cocooning measures are causing a ‘health gap’ among older people which will have a negative impact on their physical health in the coming weeks and months. The organisation has previously voiced concerns on the impact of cocooning on older people’s mental health, and is now highlighting the long term impacts to physical health as restrictive measures continue.
ALONE has hugely expanded their services since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ireland to meet the needs of older people nationwide, and is running a national helpline for older people in collaboration with the Department of Health, the HSE, and Local Authorities. Since it launched in March, ALONE’s national helpline for older people has received over 18,784 calls. In addition to this, ALONE staff and volunteers have made 63,106 calls to older people who needed support. 73% of the older people who called the ALONE helpline in the last week are living alone.
This week ALONE noted an increase in calls regarding non-COVID related hospital visits, such as injuries related to falls. While it has now been advised that older people can go outside to exercise, ALONE is urging them to be careful, as long periods of physical inactivity while cocooning may result in deconditioning and loss of muscle mass, resulting in an increased fall risk among older people. Each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls, mostly at home, and falls are the leading cause of injury, disability and admission to nursing homes for this group.
The organisation has also noted with concern that some older people are unsure about whether to seek needed medical attention for fear of contracting COVID-19 at a GP appointment or in hospital.
ALONE CEO Seán Moynihan stated, “While we welcomed the news last week that cocooning measures would be relaxed slightly and that older people would be able to leave their homes to exercise, we are encouraging older people to take extra care when out walking to reduce the risk of a trip or a fall. Last week we saw an increase in the number of calls from people telling us they have fallen recently, or are afraid to go outside their homes for fear of falling. We are concerned that a number of older people were ringing for advice on whether they should either call an ambulance or their GP after they had fallen as they were concerned about going to hospital/GP due to COVID-19,” said ALONE CEO Seán Moynihan.
ALONE has voiced its concern that older people may be missing medical appointments due to fears surrounding the virus, with many older people apprehensive to visit GPs and hospitals in case they come into contact with the virus. There are concerns that without checkups, existing health issues could worsen and cause long term damage to older people’s health. The organisation is encouraging older people to talk to their GP for advice on whether they should attend appointments, and to contact their GP or a hospital if they are experiencing any health difficulties.
“We are very conscious of the adverse effects that prolonged cocooning measures are having on older people, and we are urging any older person with existing medical issues to attend checkups and appointments if they have been advised to do so by their GP,” he continued. “We have received many calls from older people with underlying health conditions who don’t want to visit their GP or hospital because they are worried that they will contract the virus. We are urging people to keep existing appointments with medical professionals to prevent their conditions from worsening. As we know, COVID-19 poses increased risks for older people who contract it, but we must also ensure that older people with other health conditions continue to receive medical advice and support.”
Last week it was announced that older people are advised they can go outside to take exercise to maintain their physical and mental health, with Dublin City Council parks allocating a period from 1:30 – 3:30 daily for older people to visit their local park. ALONE is reminding the general public to respect older people and to avoid using parks during these times.
Moynihan continued, “We have also received an increased number of calls from older people who are afraid to visit their local park as they are anxious that it will be too busy and they could come into contact with someone carrying the virus. We ask that members of the public respect these older people and to refrain from visiting parks during these specified times.”
ALONE is encouraging older people who need advice or support to call their support line, 0818 222 024 from 8am-8pm, seven days a week. The support line, which is running in collaboration with the Department of Health and the HSE, is available to all older people including those who have not used ALONE’s services previously. The support line is designed to complement the clinical advice and information being provided by the HSE through its website and helpline.
Contact ALONE on 0818 222 024 if you have concerns about your own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of an older person you know. Further information can be found on www.alone.ie.