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A new qualitative study from researchers at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin provides, for the first time, a depth of understanding of the everyday experience of the Covid-19 pandemic for older people in Ireland. As we move into the winter months and the possibility of further restrictive measures, the findings from the study provide important evidence that policymakers and Government should be mindful of regarding future possible public health restrictions, said the authors.

The report, launched recently in partnership with Safeguarding Ireland, found that older people made significant efforts to self-protect from Covid-19. However, this was at the expense of their physical and/ or mental health. While public health restrictions applied to the entire population, older people were advised to follow guidance which limited their daily lives.

Unlike previous reports, participants gave a first-hand account of their experience and described their careful efforts to self-protect. The resilience of older people is a dominant feature of the report. The collection of data occurred between January and March 2021.

Key findings include:

  • Older people made substantial changes to their daily lives to comply with the Covid-19 shielding guidance.
  • Covid-19 had significant impacts on the health of older people in the community.
  • Older people reported a general stoic approach to living in the pandemic and they demonstrated resilience in multiple ways.
  • The use of technology assisted in managing social and practical activities, however, its use, satisfaction and familiarity differed within the participants in the study.
  • Older people need more integrated support systems which maintain their personal, health and social needs.
  • Consideration needs to be given to pandemic-related information to avoid information fatigue, misinformation, and confusion.
  • Post-pandemic rehabilitation will be required to focus on restoring lost physical ability and address the consequences of social isolation and loneliness.
  • There is a need to ensure that ageist approaches do not underpin guidance. The rights of autonomy and self-determination need to be central considerations in future similar crises.

Prof Amanda Phelan, Professor in Ageing and Community Nursing and Principal Investigator of the study, said: “Older people have made significant efforts to self-protect in the pandemic, however, there has been consequences for both their physical and mental health. The impact has been most profound in the older age groups due a disproportionate impact in mortality and morbidity rates. We need a short-term plan of engaging in rehabilitation through comprehensive geriatric assessments and care plans. While our study did not highlight safeguarding issues, it is also important to acknowledge that the conditions of the pandemic exacerbated elder abuse risk factors, and this may be occurring in Ireland under the radar of our data.

Thus, a focus on awareness, prevention and early intervention are key considerations.”

To view the report, visit: https://www.tcd .ie/tcphi/assets/pdf/older-people-shielding.pdf