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Health pandemic has ‘robbed’ older people of their lives and ‘amplified’ ageism

Dr Mike Ryan made the claim in an online address.

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A couple of elderly residents at a nursing home (John Stillwell/PA)

A couple of elderly residents at a nursing home (John Stillwell/PA)

A couple of elderly residents at a nursing home (John Stillwell/PA)

The Covid-19 pandemic has robbed older people of their lives with many bearing the brunt of the virus, Dr Mike Ryan has said.

The executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme said this year will be remembered as one of the “darkest episodes” for many communities around the world for a century.

Dr Ryan also warned that physical distancing and the change of care for the elderly have lost the usual opportunities to “identify and intervene” in elder abuse.

He also said that the virus has “amplified” the spread of ageism with older adults being stereotyped as frail, vulnerable and in need of protection.

Dr Ryan made the comments as he delivered the keynote address at the online Irish Gerontological Society and Alone Willie Bermingham lecture.

Mr Ryan said: “As of today we have 33.5 million cases worldwide and over one million deaths.

“We have seen that a disproportionate number of people in the second half of their lives are bearing the brunt of Covid-19.

“It had three different types of impact on older people; the direct and life-threatening impact on their health, impact on their social lives, their mental health and indirect suffering of the virus on the health system which is supposed to serve so much in so many of their health needs.

“The death rate is further compounded by an even higher death rate of those who have underlying health conditions that affect the immune, cardiovascular respiratory systems and these are common in older age.

“Many older persons have not only lost in terms of health, but also in terms of social and family contact.

“The physical isolation of older people from traditional social networks including family, friends and care professionals in the midst of the pandemic has also increases the risk of social isolation, anxiety and loneliness which also has a tremendous impact on a person’s physical and mental health.

“It has been a vicious cycle.

We need to cherish those who brought us to where we are, who have given us everything we have. These relationships shape us for the rest of our livesDr Mike Ryan

“In addition, many of the usual opportunities to identify and intervene in elder abuse have also been used because of physical distancing.

“The virus has also amplified the spread of ageism with older adults being wrongly stereotyped as frail, as vulnerable and in need of protection.

“Regrettably Covid-19 has shown how prevalent ageism is our society and the strength and limitations of the responses by governments.”

He also said that Covid-19 has exposed dysfunction and fragility in many public systems including health, long-term care and social protection.

He told the panel that millions of older people have been unable to access services they need like food, medicine and money.

Dr Ryan said the pandemic has robbed many older people of their lives.

“However, it could and should mark a turning point in our conception and approaches to the care for older people,” he added.

“We need to cherish those who brought us to where we are, who have given us everything we have.

“These relationships shape us for the rest of our lives.”

HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry said the evidence shows that the virus is as “lethal” in those age groups and vulnerable groups as it ever was.

“In Ireland on August 1 we saw a sharp spike in 18 to 25-year-olds and it’s inevitable that will seep through to older people,” he added.

“There is no protection that a hospital can have, that a healthcare facility can have, that a long-term residential care facility can have – no protections will be strong enough to withstand uncontrolled community transmission of this virus.”

Cecily Kelleher, who chaired the Covid-19 Nursing Homes Expert Panel, said: “We owe it to our citizens to do better.

“It is right to call out the fact that we are in a period for a new idea for 2020 to 2030 for healthy ageing and concerted action.

“We should be taking the actions for this to make things better and improve in the long term.”

PA