How the pandemic has affected the elderly's physical and mental health
The impact of the lockdown on elderly people has led to increased levels of anxiety in many, this is largely due to the knowledge that they are particularly susceptible to catching the virus if they go outside. This has led them to feel trapped. Muscle weakness has become a common side effect in many elderly people who have been stuck indoors for months. This is mostly due to the inability to properly exercise. This can lead to a loss of balance, resulting in falls.
Particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, the elderly were strongly advised to stay indoors meaning that many had to cancel or postpone recurring GP appointments. This also lead to an increase in many elderly patients facing delays in receiving their medications, especially for chronic conditions such as pain/arthritis, asthma, high blood pressure and more.
‘Cognitive decline’ has also been found in research. As we age, it becomes harder to hold onto our faculties, and with things like the chance to socially interact and attend group exercise classes being impossible at the moment, many elderly people are declining far faster than usual.
A lot of older people are not receiving the help they need to prepare an adequate meal, leading to malnutrition, depression and deteriorating physical health.
Aside from recommending medicines for their physical health, pharmacists should be telling the elderly how they can look after their mental health, too. Pharmacists should inquire about the patient’s support network (family, friends, carer, living arrangements etc.) and advise accordingly. From suggesting a games night if they live with other people, to suggesting that they set up regular phone/Skype calls with their loved ones if they live alone, community pharmacists can recommend a wide range of simple and safe tactics to keep an older person’s mind active during the pandemic. This can help to reduce the risk of dementia and relieve feelings of depression and isolation.
They should advise the elderly on the types of food they should be eating regularly in order to get enough vitamins and nutrients. As a lot of older people cannot manage a big meal, community pharmacists can recommend healthy snacks and simple substitutions that will ensure they are eating well.
Pharmacists should also reassure patients that they are not a burden for reaching out for help if they need it. Many elderly people do not seek help through fear of causing unnecessary fuss, but with so many older people struggling to cope, it is far better to speak out.