Some public health measures introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19 have had a major negative impact on the mental and physical health of older people, a new report has shown.
The report was compiled by ALONE, the organisation which supports older people, and the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), an ongoing study of people over the age of 50.
The report used data from ALONE to compare feelings of loneliness, isolation and anxiety in older people before and after the pandemic. Much of this data came from ALONE's national support line, which has been up and running since March.
Since then, it has received over 27,000 calls for support, with 75% of its callers living alone, and 55% advised to cocoon during the pandemic.
The report reveals that during this period, ALONE recorded an increase in callers who reported negative emotions, including suicidal ideation. Loneliness in particular was found to have a negative impact on mental health and was linked with depressive symptoms in older people.
However, the report also found that physical health was badly affected as a result of pandemic measures. It noted that many older people were apprehensive about attending medical appointments in case they caught the virus while outside of their homes. This included people who required medical treatment for conditions that they already had, and people who needed an examination or treatment, for example, after a fall.
According to ALONE CEO, Seán Moynihan, the organisation has seen "a huge increase" in loneliness among older people as a result of the isolation experienced while cocooning.
"It is important for members of the public to remember that loneliness can happen to anyone and can take a toll on both your physical and mental health. We hope that we can work towards breaking down this stigma and focus on the people behind the percentages," he commented.
He pointed out that ALONE has mounted a coordinated national response to the pandemic, which has allowed it to respond immediately to newly emerging concerns and existing issues being raised by older people.
"We adapted all of our services to ensure that we could keep them running during the pandemic and we established a loneliness taskforce to ensure we were putting provisions in place to safeguard older people, both now and into the future," Mr Moynihan explained.
He insisted that loneliness and social isolation are "two of the greatest health risks for older people today".
"Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health and are worse for us than well-known risk factors, such as obesity and physical inactivity.
"I would like to remind any older person that is struggling at the moment that supports are available to them through ALONE and local authorities across the country. If you are struggling at all over the coming weeks and months, please do not hesitate to reach out and seek help," Mr Moynihan added.
ALONE is encouraging older people who need advice, or anyone who is concerned about an older person, to call its support line on 0818 222 024 from 8am-8pm, seven days a week.
ALONE's website can be viewed here. The ALONE and TILDA report can be viewed here.
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