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‘Big implications’ for social care as study reveals impact of pandemic on older people’s mobility

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Age UK has predicted “big implications” for health and social care services as new research reveals the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on older people’s physical and mental health.

The study found that 27% of over 60s couldn’t walk as far and 25% were living in more physical pain earlier this year compared to the start of the pandemic.

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.

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Nearly a fifth (17%) of older people said they were less steady on their feet at the start of 2021, compared to the same time last year.

For a minority of older people, the deterioration in their health and wellbeing had been severe and was affecting their independence.  In February 2021, 12% felt they were less independent since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, 10% of older people who had previously been able to get up and down the stairs were now finding it difficult and 9% of older people who had previously been able to walk short distances were now finding it difficult. 

Age UK said the research raises questions over older people’s ability to “bounce back” from the pandemic, and the ability of the NHS and social care services to meet their needs without extra resources.

Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “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.”

The research also found evidence of accelerated cognitive decline. Alongside prolonged periods of isolation, reduced social contact, and limited mental stimulation, by February 2021 22% of respondents were finding it harder to remember things since the start of the pandemic.

Many older people also reported that they had lost confidence in doing everyday activities outside of the house.  

Over half (54%) of older people felt less confident attending a hospital appointment, while 37% of older people felt less confident going to a GP surgery. 

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Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke