Lockdown loneliness | 

Elderly people face 'tidal wave' of physical and mental health issues as new Covid lockdown looms

“It’s an awful struggle. A man who was 84 said to a volunteer on Friday 'Please don’t stop visiting me'. He knew the rules but he just said ‘please don’t stop coming’"

Elderly person (Stock image)

Alan Sherry

There will be a tidal wave of physical and mental health problems for older people unless people are allowed visit them during the new lockdown, a charity has warned.

Under the new Covid restrictions there can been no visits between households but the charity Alone, who have thousands of volunteers who visit elderly people across the country, have said the move will end up causing a litany problems for older people living alone.

Alone CEO Seán Moynihan said lessons have to be learnt from the last lockdown which led to significant issues for older people cocooning.

“When cocooning was over we had a huge spike in physical health issues, finance issues and housing issues because they had all been put to one side but all had to be dealt with. We really can’t shut all that stuff down in the winter.”

Seán said older people who Alone volunteers visit are extremely fearful about the latest lockdown measures.

“It’s an awful struggle. A man who was 84 said to a volunteer on Friday 'Please don’t stop visiting me'. He knew the rules but he just said ‘please don’t stop coming’.

“We need to say mental health matters in the winter as well. The danger is older people will become cut off. What happens with isolation and loneliness is people stop minding their physical health. They stop feeding themselves. It starts with one thing but snowballs into something more serious as well.”

He said lesson have to be learned from how the last lockdown affected older people and measures need to be put in place now to allow designated low-risk people to visit them.

“What we’ve all learned this year is if we don’t mind somebody’s mental health or social health then their health will decline anyway.

“People could end up in hospital then for other reasons which is everything you were trying to avoid and then that puts pressure on the health service.”

He said there is a danger isolated people will become invisible unless measures are put in place.

“You’ve got a deterioration behind closed doors. You’re not seeing what’s going on so you don’t know if people are minding themselves, whether they need medical treatment or if they’re short of food.

“It’s an invisible thing just like loneliness. You have people whose houses are well kept and well presented but behind that door they’re really struggling.

“A lot of older people out there very worried. If we go into it where there are no visitors for older people where does that end? Is it in the spring? That’s too long for older people. We need to put something in place whether it’s a defined bubble or other sponsored and supported social, emotional and mental health supports.

He said this lockdown is worse than the last one as we’re approaching winter.

“As well as shorter days restricting people getting out there are excess winter deaths. The cold and the winter is a public health issue as well. One in 10 older people suffer fuel poverty and unfortunately lose around 1,500 more older people in the winter than the summer and around 300 of that is linked to the cold weather.”

Seán said organisations like Alone want to sit down with government and medical chiefs to come up with a plan to ensure older people are not left on their own during this lockdown.

Elderly person (Stock image)

He said while home care has been ramped up as part of the HSE winter plan measures should be put in place so the likes of Alone volunteers or people in a tightly restricted social bubble can visit.

“We need to try and work with Government and say a lot of people have re-engineered services up and down the country in how we can provide services within the home.

“I think if you define the bubble but define it tightly it could work. If the second household bubble has somebody who is a teacher or maybe working in a nursing home then you’re upping the risk.

“It could be a neighbour or an Alone volunteer or somebody from another agency but the second household needs to be relatively tightly defined.”

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