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Older people more frail as a result of lockdown during Covid crisis, says new research 

The Covid-19 lockdown has led to increased frailty in older people, especially those living alone, new research has revealed.

Older people are now also at higher risk of having to attend a hospital emergency department because of frailty increased by cocooning and having less contact with community support.

Chartered physiotherapist Susan O’Carroll and the frailty intervention therapy team in University Hospital Kerry presented the findings, the Independent reported.

An ongoing fear and uncertainty regarding the fear of infection among older people is limiting them getting back into the habit of socialising with family and friends, researchers found.

The HSE has confirmed that the number of over-75s now attending hospital emergency departments is higher than in 2020 or 2019, with half being admitted to a ward and usually experiencing a longer hospital stay than for other patients.

The research team defined frailty as when a person has decreased reserve or ability to remain resilient against minor stressors such as a fall or infection.

They said social factors may also play a part in women having higher rates of osteoporosis which can lead to more fractures. “The fact that women have less muscle mass and lose it quicker as they age makes them more vulnerable to loss of function,” said Ms O’Carroll.

Her team looked at 429 patients who were treated, with falls and respiratory conditions being the most common complaints.

“During the pandemic there was a major decrease in community supports and visits by family and friends due to necessity of cocooning,” Ms O’Carroll said.

“We need to encourage people to get back into their previous roles, pastimes and social groups,” she said, presenting the findings to the annual conference of The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists.

“Covid-19 had greatly aged one of our patients in her late 70s because of the 18 months of reduced activity, not driving and with far fewer social interactions this has made her less resilient. She is now reluctant to drive and her daughter does her shopping.”

“The great thing is that frailty is dynamic, it’s modifiable. It is very important to include some resistance training and eating well including protein to help decrease falls and maintain an independent lifestyle in your own home,” she added.

“A yearly check up and medication review with the GP is essential.

“We need more multidisciplinary teams in the community and in emergency departments in hospitals which will speed up the time it takes to see people and give older adults access to specialist care which will improve outcomes.”


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