Elderly people at tremendous risk of Covid-19-related complications and are even more isolated due to social-distancing restrictions. Has the pandemic changed how we deal with ageing forever?
Today marks the beginning of Positive Ageing Week here in Ireland. Championed by charity Age Action, the week is a chance for all of us to reflect on how elderly people have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and how we may move forward to ensure that they feel their needs are being met and their voices heard.
October 1 is the 30th global United Nations Day of the Older Person, and it is an anniversary like no other. This year's theme is 'Pandemics: Do They Change How We Address Age and Ageing?', looking closely at the unique risks and effects confronted by older people as a result of Covid-19, and whether their contributions and positions in society are being properly protected.
There is no doubt that this year's pandemic has had a profound and long-lasting effect on our ageing population. While we are currently waiting to see how Ireland will fare with our current, so-called 'second wave', when we cast our minds back to spring of this year, the view is bleak. From February to May, over-65's accounted for almost 92% of Covid-related deaths in Ireland. As of this week, the median age of those who have died due to Covid-19 is 83. Over 65's, especially those with underlying health issues, are at a massive risk of contracting the virus, and of experiencing further complications.
The immediate, physical implications of Covid-19 are on everyone's mind, but what can go under the radar is the effects on mental wellbeing. We've all talked ad nauseum about the loneliness, anxiety and general depression that many of us have experienced during lockdown, maybe for the first time - but what about an entire generation that has been dealing with these feelings for years already?
Loneliness among older people is an epidemic in itself. According to The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) in 2019, more than 37% of people aged 50 and over felt lonely often or some of the time, and that this figure rose to 45% after the age of 74. Getting older comes with a myriad of challenges and obstacles to social interaction - physical disabilities or conditions, not having a daily workplace to attend and the death of spouses, friends and family members all contribute to feelings of loneliness in old age.
During the pandemic, older people have been even more restricted in these areas, unable to have visitors, or even head out for a walk or a coffee to get out of the house. As we rush to return to pubs, restaurants and holiday destinations, we run the risk of leaving older people behind - their health and wellbeing is still at risk, and we need to reflect on what parts of normal are worth rushing back to.
This week, Age Action's Positive Ageing Week events schedule is a ray of light and a view forward into how we can ensure positive ageing as long as we're living with Covid. Throughout the week, virtual and outdoor events, including Zoom quizzes, exercise classes and nutrition workshops, are taking place across the country, focusing on combatting loneliness and isolation.
Now more than ever, we're waking up to what's really important - more time with loved ones, and less in the rat race. Consider expanding this mindset to the older people in your life - in your departure from the mad rush of work-home-sleep, remember to focus some time to those who the pandemic has hit the hardest.
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