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Older people and the pandemic - Lessons from COVID-19

Written by Dr Doug Wilson
on June 19, 2020

Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought it would be useful to consider the 12 lessons we have learned that relate to older people. This thing has a long way to go, but we have learned a lot as well.

1) The global pandemic has triggered multiple severe cases and deaths in some countries, but good responses largely eliminated bad outcomes in others. Deaths per million : UK 600, Spain 580, USA 330, Greece 16.8, Japan 7.2, S Korea 5.3, NZ 4.5, Australia 4.0, China 3.5, Thailand 0.84. None of the lesser death rates result from new anti-viral drugs, just lockdown, hand hygiene, gowns and masks for healthcare workers, social distancing and testing track, tracing, isolating. Speed of the viral spread in some countries saw new cases double in 2 to 3 days.

2) Virus induces more severe outcomes in the older population. This demands more careful observation of this population, especially in care homes. Older people should monitor their current health carefully.

3) Governments engage with scientists to make best response decisions for their populations. This requires collaboration, consistency and clarity, relying on any solid new data and experience of others. Getting it right is critical.

4) Public health directives need clear messaging, and citizen support. The older community is very important in adhering to guidelines, reinforcing the messages with others, and refusing to complain about restrictions. High-quality decision-making and responses have kept high-end aged care facilities well protected.

5) Neighbourly responses, and volunteers, communicating with older residents significantly reduces their isolation, improves their lives, broadens their social network. Some describe themselves as better than before.

6) Loneliness and anxiety are common consequences of lockdown. But help from neighbours and strangers reduce these risks. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

7) Despite lockdown it is important for those with chronic disorders, such as cancer, to continue their treatment and management. Lockdown doesn’t mean chronic diseases disappear. Start with tele-medicine contact with Doctor.

8) Technology and the Internet build communication linkages between families, and friends with common interests around the world. Get to know how to Zoom and other communications. Reduces isolation, broadens understanding of current news. This binds families together.

9) Get some exercise. Inside your house is fine. Stairs are a useful gym. Some people have run marathons in their apartments. Not for all, or at least keeping the joints moving is good

10) Vaccines are in development, and likely to protect people. This may be some 18 or more months away. In the interim be conscious of any small illness, especially one that seems like a cold. Seek advice early. You’re not being troublesome or frivolous. Don’t drop your hygiene guard. You may also reduce the risks of winter flu.

11) Take care with the booze over this time. It is not healthy prop. Keep the fridge door tightly closed. This may seem an opportunity to party, and to eat lots of chocolate, but do avoid overeating. Things will settle down, so keep yourself in trim.

12) In New Zealand, where the virus seems to have been dispatched, thank your good luck this is where you live. Australia is not far behind. It’s still a good time to be alive. You may find new friends, greater facility with Internet and computer, and a robust feeling for good living and exercise, the experiment has been interesting, educational, and survivable.

Listen to the Ageing for Beginners podcast

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

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