Pandemic takes its toll on older people’s mobility, Age UK survey finds

Caroline Abrahams II

The coronavirus pandemic has sharply accelerated the social care needs of older people, with nearly a quarter finding it harder to carry out everyday activities, a new survey has found.

The figures from Age UK show that 23% over 60s believe their ability to carry out everyday activities has worsened since the first lockdown.

The charity believes this has been caused by months of isolation, inactivity and lack of stimulation and is calling on the government to commit to concrete action in the Queen’s Speech today to strengthen and expand the provision of social care in England, in order to meet this growing need.  

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Caroline Abrahams (pictured), Charity Director at Age UK said: “It’s really sad that the pandemic has taken such a toll on the mobility, confidence and capacity of millions of older people to live independently without extra support. Specialists in older people’s health warned that this was likely to happen after months of enforced isolation, inactivity and lack of stimulation and, unfortunately, our new analysis shows they were absolutely right. The inevitable consequence of this pandemic related damage is that older people’s demand for social care is set to go up quite markedly, beyond what would otherwise have been expected.

“What matters now is that the Government recognises this is happening and makes the extra investments and reforms needed to beef up and expand our care services so they can meet this growing need. Before the pandemic we already knew that 1.6 million older people had some unmet need for care, but our new research means this awful statistic could rocket even higher this year unless the Government acts fast.”

Age UK questioned 14,840 older people about how difficult they were finding daily activities.

Two in five (42%) who had difficulty walking up and down the stairs before the first lockdown in March 2020 reported this activity became more difficult since then.  

More than a third (36%) of over 60s in the UK who had difficulty showering, having a bath or washing before the first lockdown in March 2020 reported this activity became more difficult since then.  

And 43% of over 60s who had difficulty preparing and cooking food before the first lockdown in March 2020 reported this activity became more difficult since then.  

Age UK said living through months of fear, isolation and inactivity has led to weakened muscles and deteriorating strength, balance and flexibility.

Mentally, decreased human contact and intellectual stimulation have caused some older people’s dementia or other form of cognitive decline to progress more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.

In addition, some older people’s self- confidence has been eroded as they have got out of the habit of going out and about and participating in social activity, while others are experiencing intensified anxiety and depression, the charity said.

Abrahams added: “At Age UK we often hear how miserable and downright frightening it can be to struggle on your own with essential tasks like getting out of bed and washing that you used to take for granted but which now carry the risk of you falling, doing you serious harm. That’s what’s at stake here for older people who find themselves in this difficult position and surely its incumbent on us as a society to make sure they get the care and support they need. 

 “The fact that the pandemic has intensified some older people’s need for care, while battering the workforce and undermining care services, means the gap between the care system we have and the one we need here in England is growing by the day. With the horrors visited on care homes by COVID-19 and the heroism of our underpaid care workers still fresh in all our minds, it is more important than ever that the Prime Minister fixes social care.”

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Sarah Clarke

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