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25% of older adults ‘unable to walk as far or in more pain since pandemic start’

·3-min read

Around a quarter of older people were unable to walk as far or were living in more physical pain earlier this year compared to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, research suggests.

People reported being less steady on their feet, struggling to manage the stairs and feeling less independent since the start of the crisis, according to polling for Age UK.

Some 27% of adults aged 60 and over said they could no longer walk as far, while 25% said they were in more pain.

It also found evidence of accelerated cognitive decline, with more than a fifth (22%) of respondents saying they were finding it harder to remember things.

The charity fears the adverse effects may prove long-lasting and in some cases be irreversible, heaping pressure on NHS and social care services over the coming years.

Some 1,487 people aged 60 and over in the UK were polled by Kantar Polling between January 28 and February 11, during the third national lockdown.

Extrapolated to the UK population, the findings suggest that millions of older people have seen their health decline following multiple lockdowns, social distancing measures, the loss of routines and support and limited access to services.

The charity also found that some people living with a mental health condition saw their symptoms exacerbated, while others were feeling depressed or anxious for the first time.

More than a third (36%) of respondents said they were feeling more anxious since the start of the pandemic, and 43% said they were less motivated to do the things they enjoy.

Almost a fifth (18%) of those surveyed said they felt less confident leaving the house alone.

This compares to 26% of older people from ethnic minority backgrounds, who were also less confident getting out and about, accessing health services or receiving support at home, compared to white respondents.

People also gave more detail about their struggles through an online survey, which received 14,840 responses.

They spoke of crying daily due to loneliness, feeling like a prisoner and having had their confidence and purpose “sapped”.

One respondent said: “Haven’t moved out of the house for months on end. Can’t even make it up the stairs now (previously no problem at all).”

Another participant said: “Some days very down, don’t bother to get washed and dressed, what’s the point.”

And an older person said: “I get panicky when l have to go out in public, l have nightmares about being out in a crowd and no-one is wearing a mask.”

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said it may take some time for older people to rebuild their confidence, urging people to “keep supporting the older people in your lives.”

She said: “Our research found that earlier this year, immobility, deconditioning, loneliness, and an inability to grieve as normal, were leaving deep physical and emotional scars on a significant proportion of our older population.

“It’s too soon to know for certain how many older people can ‘bounce back’ from the pandemic but at the very least it will be tough, and they are going to need all the help they can get.

“The implications are clear: Government must give our physical and mental health and social care services enough additional resources to meet older people’s increased, pandemic-related needs.”

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