Virus delivers shock new hidden blow for the elderly
DOCTORS are concerned that the already worrying public health crisis of loneliness will blow out to crippling levels due to COVID-19 quarantining of the elderly.
It comes as alarming new research out today reveals social isolation in the aged greatly increases their chances of hospitalisation due to respiratory problems.
Head of The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Harry Nespolon said in recent years loneliness has been documented as a reason people, particularly the elderly, have higher levels of sickness and death due to lack of companionship.
"The social isolation brought on by the virus will do real damage. We already know that people who live alone don't live as long as those who are surrounded by family," he said.
The GP said that his older patients are so intent on doing the right thing during quarantine they don't even move out to sit on their verandas. They are very afraid of breaking the rules but don't know the rules.
"GPs are trying to get the message across that it is safe to go to the doctors in the hope the elderly will come in and get their flu shots. The flu is more likely to hit them than the coronavirus," Dr Nespolon said,
"Older people don't get the same connection talking over face time as seeing their family and friends in person. The concern is that depression will set in," he said.
The Chief Health Officer yesterday said Queenslanders should not have to give up their connections to friends and family for the virus and visiting loved ones is essential travel.
Dr Jeannette Young said people should exercise social distancing and make sure they were well before visiting. She said that includes people who had vulnerable, elderly parents, including in nursing homes.
New research out today in the British Medical Journal ironically shows that social isolation in the aged greatly increases their chances of hospitalisation due to respiratory problems - regardless of their general health.
Scientists found that poor social engagement was associated with a heightened risk of 24 per cent.
The researchers suggested people who are socially isolated may be more physically inactive and smoke more, and less likely to see a doctor when symptoms first appear.
The study was observational but the researchers point out that their findings chime with those of other published studies linking social isolation and loneliness with poorer health.
"Older adults living alone with existing lung conditions may benefit from additional targeted community support to try and reduce the risk of hospital admissions," the study said.
"Whilst this research study focused on respiratory disease, it does raise questions as to if, and how, hospital admissions for other respiratory conditions such as COVID-19 may be related to social factors such as isolation in addition to biomedical factors." lead author Daisy Fancourt Associate Professor of Psychobiology & Epidemiology from the University College London said.
Wavell Heights grandmother Gwendoline Sandall, 81 is isolating at home and said the pandemic is proving tougher than she expected as she lives alone.
Ms Sandall said since social distancing measures have been put in place her three granddaughters have not been able to visit so often.
"They sometimes come to visit me but not as often as they used to but I understand because they're just trying to protect me; they don't want me to get the virus because I'm on the wrong side of 80," Ms Sandall said.
Before COVID-19 the retired midwife would go shopping once a week and enjoyed the exercise and mental stimulation. She desperately misses that day out and is stuck at home.
"My son brings me groceries when I need them now. I don't leave the house at all," Ms Sandall said.
Originally published as Virus delivers shock new hidden blow for the elderly