A Cork GP has urged older people not to make themselves a prisoner in their own homes, and said that 18 months after the start of the pandemic some older people remain nervous about going out.
The comments come as Ireland enters the next phase of re-opening with many people today returning to offices, while there are also increases to the number of people able to attend organised indoor and outdoor group activities.
Speaking to the Echo, Cork GP Dr John Sheehan said as society opens up, some older people are nervous about going back out.
“I think the challenge for older people is that they got so used to cocooning, because they had to and there was so much fear at the start of the pandemic, that a lot of them have lost their confidence in terms of going out and engaging as things open up like the over 60s clubs, and senior citizen clubs and day centres. They are very nervous about going out.
"I know for a lot of people that they’ve just decided they are just going to stay in for longer,” he said.
For others, he said, there is a fear that they will make a mistake when it comes to Covid-19 restrictions.
“People are nervous that they’ll do things wrong- that they won’t do the distancing, or they’ll forget to wear their mask or do the hand hygiene, and then they get flustered and that puts them off as well. They feel it’s an unknown world for them and so therefore they are more nervous.”
The Cork GP said however that a lack of exercise and taking part in activities can have health implications.
“If you are not walking and you are not doing exercise, things like your balance can become a little bit more unsteady,” he said, explaining that once someone has difficulty with their balance, they can become at risk of falling and injury.
“All of those activities like exercise classes, like seniors groups, they are so important in terms of keeping us going... All of us, and in particular older people need that, he said.
Dr Sheehan said as society re-opens, he would encourage people to take part in activities they are comfortable with.
“There are a lot of activities- whether it is going for a small walk down your road or terrace, whether it is going to religious services or some of the senior groups - where there won't be huge crowds, or there will be some people, but it is managed.
“That will slowly help to build up people’s confidence because that has been an issue and we’ve seen people who have just stopped going to everything and that’s an awful shame, particularly for older people,” he said.
“Take it nice and slow, is the advice I’d have, and don’t make yourself a prisoner at home,” he added.
On Sunday, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan issued advice to older people as society re-opens.
He said that the Covid-19 pandemic and the necessary public health measures introduced to protect people from impacts of the virus have “had a disproportionate impact” on older people.
“As we move into the autumn/winter period and prepare for the dark evenings and cooler weather these seasons bring, many people in this cohort have concerns about how we can all continue to socialise safely and take part in the social and physical activities that keep us connected to our friends, families and wider communities.”
He said that while it may be still possible for people who are vaccinated to pick up Covid-19 when Ireland still has such high levels of disease in the community, that the vaccines are especially good at limiting the likelihood of that becoming a severe infection that would, for example, require admission to hospital or to intensive care.
He noted recent research that showed 96% of respondents aged 55 years and older state that they are fully protected through vaccination.
“There are still some people who haven’t yet taken up the opportunity of vaccination, or who have delayed receiving a second dose for various reasons. I strongly encourage anyone who is in this position to ensure they get fully vaccinated as soon as possible in order to best protect themselves and those around them,” he said.
The CMO also appealed to people to continue to regularly wash their hands, and wear a mask when appropriate – particularly in retail settings, on public transport and in healthcare settings; keep their distance, open windows and ventilate indoor spaces, avoid crowds and choose outdoors where possible for meeting others.
“This suite of measures will also help stop the transmission of seasonal influenza, common colds and other respiratory illnesses that are more prevalent over the winter months,” he said.
The CMO added: “As we move into this next phase of the pandemic, the most important action to take is - if you display symptoms of Covid-19 like cough, fever, headache, sore throat and blocked or runny nose - isolate and contact your GP who will advise if you need to arrange a test.”