A CORK expert has said over-70s who were told to cocoon should have been made more aware of the risks of isolating and he has argued the blanket government advisory was “not a good idea”.
In March, the Government recommended that anyone who was aged over 70, or those who were extremely medically vulnerable, should stay at home, and minimise all non-essential contact with people in their homes who were not cocooning themselves, to help reduce their risk of contracting Covid-19.
The advice has been altered in recent weeks with people aged over 70 now advised that they should stay at home as much as possible, except to leave their home for exercise or a drive up to 5km.
The government continues to recommend that over-70s should continue to avoid shops or attend gatherings.
Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at University College Cork William Reville said he had significant concerns about the impact that cocooning would have on many people in Ireland.
While Professor Reville said he did believe that the National Public Health Emergency Team and the Government were doing a “fairly good job”, he said the advice around cocooning was based on a medical model and did not take into account the importance of human psychology.
The enforced social isolation, removal of mental stimulation, and the difficulties in maintaining a good exercise regime and healthy eating during cocooning would have a significant negative effect on people, he said.
“The mind is connected to the body and vice-versa. Even a few days of enforced isolation impacts psychological resilience,” he said.
Professor Reville highlighted how there are four key pillars that support good health in older people; activities that maintain good mental/cognitive function, maintaining good social contacts, maintaining good exercise regimes and healthy eating.
“Cocooning kicks out these four pillars,” he stressed. When advice was initially being issued around cocooning, he said people should have been advised of the risks that come with it, in particular in terms of their psychological resilience.
“Along with issuing the cocooning advice, they should have explained as well that when isolating there are risks with that,” he said. “People need to have activities that stimulate the mind, that they need to keep up social contacts.”
Professor Reville also voiced concerns around older people being talked to as a “vulnerable, special, frail category.”
“If people tell you that you are frail, you start to feel that,” he said.
He described a case of one woman who he said was a very level-headed, problem solver whose children would often approach her for advice if they had any difficulties.
However, when the recommendations came in around cocooning, he said her children started to worry and get anxious and call her more often to check on her.
“The advice did not psychologically debilitate her, but she felt odd that her children were now worrying about her instead of her being the ‘tent pole’ that kept the family up,” he said.
“Lumping all people over 70 together is not a good idea. I know people who are over 70 who are very vigorous,” he added.
Instead he suggested that advice around cocooning could instead have been aimed at older people with underlying medical conditions.
“I can understand when it sprang on us unexpectedly why blanket cocooning might have appeared as a good idea.
“But as the days and weeks went by, cocooning for that section should have been modified,” he said.
Professor Reville said that it isn’t too late to modify the advice now, and he said it should also be made clear that the recommendations are advisory, and not mandatory.
“Most people thought it was a rule, not advice and this should be made clear now,” he said.
The professor said that while many people over the age of 70 might choose to cocoon in response to the pandemic, they should be able to make their mind up on this themselves.
“The over-70s section of the population should be the wisest and they are cautious,” he said.
“There are other categories of people at risk such as people who are obese, but I’ve never heard advice that obese people should cocoon- if there was there’d be an outcry,” he said.