Study to assess impact of COVID on older people

World "living through a unique time in history"
  • Deborah Condon

Researchers are to study how people over the age of 50 in Ireland have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A team from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) plans to analyse how the virus outbreak, and the subsequent measures introduced to tackle it, have impacted older adults.

TILDA is an ongoing study of people over the age of 50 in Ireland and over 6,000 TILDA participants will take part in this latest research. They will provide information on a range of topics, including their health, quality of life, mood, social lives and psychological state.

At the same time, a second COVID-19 project will gather biological samples in order to establish who has been infected by the virus. This will provide important insight into the risk factors and consequences for developing COVID-19 among those over the age of 50.

It is hoped that the findings from both of these studies will help to support health systems and policymakers, improving the national response to the virus in the longer term.

The TILDA researchers highlighted that COVID-19 has had the biggest impact on people over the age of 65.

This age group accounted for over 90% of confirmed deaths between March 11 and May 15, according to an analysis of confirmed deaths by the Central Statistics Office.

People aged 70 and over were told to 'cocoon' - stay indoors, stop social visits from friends and family, and stop outdoor exercise. These are activities that shape everyday routine and quality of life.

The researchers aim to determine the full scale of the impact of COVID-19 on these older groups.

A questionnaire will be sent to a nationally representative sample of over 6,000 current TILDA participants nationwide. It will collect information from people who have experienced COVID-19 and people who have not, but have been affected by the public health measures introduced to ‘flatten the curve'.

Participants will be asked about the effects of the pandemic on their physical, psychological and cognitive health, but also other topics, such as the impact of caring for others and experiences of ageism.

"The world is living through a unique time in history as we grapple with the fallout of COVID-19 across the globe. The outbreak of this disease has affected every aspect of our lives and has particularly affected older people.

"This research provides a unique opportunity for older people living in Ireland to document their experience, so that we can learn how to improve public health responses in the future,'' explained TILDA senior researcher, Dr Mark Ward.

The information gathered will be linked to 11 years of existing health, social and economic data that has previously been gathered from these participants. This will help researchers to understand COVID-related early risks and determinants of susceptibility.

"For the past 11 years, TILDA has gathered comprehensive research information on all aspects of the overall health, economic and social circumstances of adults over 50 in Ireland. None of this is possible without the support of our committed TILDA participants.

"By linking our past data with their experience of the pandemic, we can assess a broad tapestry of how the pandemic has and will impact the lives of people in Ireland," commented principal investigator of TILDA and head researcher, Prof Rose Anne Kenny.

She said that when the anaylsis of biological samples is included, the researchers "will be able to explore what determines susceptibility both to infection and the response to fighting the infection".

"This is important information for scientists who are developing treatments and vaccinations. We look forward to providing a platform for the experience of older people to be heard," Prof Kenny added.

For more information on TILDA, click here.


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