The coronavirus pandemic has significantly increased older people’s social care needs, with about one in four finding it harder to carry out everyday activities, a survey suggests.
Some 23% of people aged 60 and over questioned for Age UK said their ability to carry out everyday activities has worsened since the first lockdown.
The charity questioned 1,487 older people about how difficult they were finding activities such as using the stairs, walking short distances, washing, and preparing and cooking food.
It is calling for the Government to commit to concrete action in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech so the sector can meet this growing need.
Caroline Abrahams, 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.”
Ms Abrahams said the gap between the care system “we have and the one we need” is growing each day.
She continued: “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”.
“A clear statement to this effect in the Queen’s Speech would give us hope that he and his Government really do intend to follow through this year.”
The Government has said improving the adult social care system remains a priority and it will bring forward proposals later this year.
The Age UK survey found that 42% of respondents who previously had difficulty using the stairs said this had become harder, and the same proportion who previously had difficulty walking short distances outside said this had become more difficult.
Respondents who had previously struggled with cooking and preparing food and washing also said these activities had become harder.
One in ten (10%) respondents now have difficulty walking up and down stairs when previously they did not, while 9% now struggle to walk short distances outside.
The charity said living through months of fear, isolation and inactivity has led to weakened muscles and deteriorating strength, balance and flexibility.
Cognitive decline in some older people has progressed more quickly due to decreased human contact, while others have become less confident of going out.
The charity also carried out an online survey in January and February, with more than 13,000 older people taking part.
One respondent, Betty, who is in her eighties and lives with four long-term conditions, said: “I find it harder to lift and move things in the house.
“My arthritis is now restricting me in peeling veg, changing and making the bed – my husband is 89, he helps but he has health problems which restricts him in what he can do.”
Separate research has found an 84% rise in demand for advice about social care in two years from people entering the system for the first time or those whose needs have increased.
Access Social Care, a charity providing free legal advice for people with social care needs, said demand rose 84% between March 2019 and April 2021 for assessment advice.
Its annual State of the Nation report, conducted with Mencap, Age UK, Carers UK and Independent Age, found that the number of individuals calling helplines about their social care provision has more than doubled since March 2019.
And demand for advice for unpaid carers has risen by almost five fold in two years, while demand for advice on charging and paying for social care rose by 45% over the same period.
Kari Gerstheimer, chief executive of Access Social Care, said the system cannot cope without extra Government funding.
She said: “The demands on local authorities to provide social care are rising, whilst funding to pay for care and support has not increased at the same rate.
“The staggering rise in calls into charity helplines is symptomatic of underfunding from central government.
“Every day millions of older and disabled people are going without the social care they need and have a right to.”