Elderly hardest hit by COVID-19 as lockdown loneliness impacts mental health

Infectious disease specialist, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, said that preventative measures to keep the elderly safe during the pandemic had affected their mental health.

JOHANNESBURG – The mental wellbeing of the elderly population during the lockdown remains the focus as the world marks International Day for Older Persons.

In every country that COVID-19 has reached, scientists have advised that the elderly, especially those over 60 with pre-existing conditions, are at greater risk of infection and death because of their ageing immune systems.

In South Africa, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said that more than 24,000 people over 60 have been hospitalised with COVID-19 since March.

Infectious disease specialist, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, said that preventative measures to keep the elderly safe during the pandemic had affected their mental health.

“The mental health consequences of isolation is also quite severe. I think we’ve got to find some kind of happy balance between the two.”

Older people have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, with loneliness and social isolation worsening their existing health conditions.

Many have been shielded from the outside world for the better part of this year because of the increased risks associated with the coronavirus.

Access to loved ones is also often restricted.

Dr Leon Geffen is involved in ageing research and has seen first-hand how the elderly continue to bear the brunt of COVID-19.

“It is quite disconcerting at this point that older people have been relatively neglected. We don’t take cognisance of them, we ignore them.”

But initiatives such as Rent a Grandparent continue to give hope to those who are cut off from the rest of the world.

Using technology, people like Samantha Barnard share their time with elderly citizens who desperately need human interactions.

“It gives the grandparents a chance to fall into something that is not the normal mundane lockdown routine that we’ve all been living in.”

According to Statistics South Africa, people above the age of 60 make up more than 9% of the population, which is just above 5 million.

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