The virus that does discriminate: The amplified effect of COVID-19 on older people

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Across the globe, the seismic quake of the current health pandemic continues to cause extensive distress and suffering for older people.

Figure 1: Percentage of patients in critical care with COVID-19 [9]
Figure 1: Percentage of patients in critical care with COVID-19 [9]
Across the globe, the seismic quake of the current health pandemic continues to cause extensive distress and suffering for older people. Fatality rates from COVID-19 for those over 80 years old are five times greater than the global average [1]. The risk of severe illness and mortality from the virus is disproportionately acute amongst older people (Figure 1). However, beyond the immediate health risks, additional aftershocks are starting to be felt. These effects are less widely reported but no less troublesome as they will increase the risk of some older people becoming marginalised and exacerbate issues they face over the long-term.

Psychological, social and environmental challenges can develop as we age [2]. Issues surrounding mental health, digital exclusion and poverty have been intensified during the public health breakdown.

  • Shielding, though a vital policy to tackle COVID-19, has contributed to a dramatic up-tick in loneliness and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety disorders [2]. Lockdown has had a greater impact on some older people as they were advised to pay particular attention to the guidelines.  A recent study by Elder.org found that 38% of over 75s are currently not leaving the house at any time and 1 in 3 elderly people are lonelier during the pandemic [3].
  • Social connectedness has never been more vital and yet digital exclusion has marginalised older people further. Mastering technology is often complicated as older people have a lower baseline of reference to enable them to grasp new technology [4]. In their recent ‘Lapsed Users’ Report, Age UK cited that 3.4 million people aged over 65 have never used the internet in their lifetime [5]. Industry and government have encouraged the use of a variety of technologies to slow down the spread of the virus, however, 25% of elderly people reported they are less able to purchase essential groceries [3]. Furthermore, in a recent interview, Age UK noted they had witnessed increased cases of malnutrition over the last five months.
  • Across the UK, 1.6 million pensioners live in poverty [6]. Worryingly, in recent survey by Ipsos, ‘62% of Britons say they have seen the cost of food, goods and services increase since the outbreak’ [7]. Financial vulnerability for pensioners is particularly challenging as they generally have little to no way of increasing their income.

Problems facing older people can be extensive, complex and importantly unique

William ‘Bill’ Lait
Midhurst, West Sussex
Bill is 88 years old, widowed and living alone. Prior to lockdown, he enjoyed popping out to do his weekly shop, joining his family for a Sunday roast and catching up with friends at his local golf club. Self-isolating has had a profound effect on Bill over the last 5 months. For the first time in his children’s memory, has he expressed concerns over his mental health. His physical health has notably deteriorated, however, he is too anxious to visit his GP amid COVID-19 risks. Bill has neither the infrastructure nor the inclination to engage with technology. Therefore, his living costs have increased significantly as he relies on additional support to complete his errands that he previously had ownership of. Bill feels “entirely at odds with the ‘new’ world”.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the response of industry, government and the public has accelerated several trends that can increasingly isolate older people. The effect of this is compounded by the shifting old age dependency ratio. Figure 2 indicates that the proportionate demands from this demographic will increase over the medium and long term. Thus, understanding the extent, source and costs of the challenges older people face is of human concern and a critical task of public policy [8].

Figure 2: The number of people over state pension age per 1,000 people of working age. Historic and projected data sourced from ONS.
Figure 2: The number of people over state pension age per 1,000 people of working age. Historic and projected data sourced from ONS.

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Appendix

[1] https://unsdg.un.org/sites/default/files/2020-05/Policy-Brief-The-Impact-of-COVID-19-on-Older-Persons.pdf
[2]https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/gps.5320#:~:text=2%20IMPACT%20ON%20THE%20ELDERLY,the%20elderly%20are%20especially%20vulnerable
[3] https://www.elder.org/the-elder/survey-on-elderly-loneliness/
[4] https://www.noisolation.com/global/research/why-do-many-seniors-have-trouble-using-technology/
[5] https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/lapsed_users_report_march-2020.pdf
[6]https://www.ageuk.org.uk/Documents/EN-GB/Campaigns/end-pensioner-poverty/how_we_can_end_pensioner_poverty_campaign_report.pdf?epslanguage=en-GB?dtrk=true#:~:text=Today%2C%201.6%20million%20pensioners%20live%20on%20or%20below%20the%20poverty%20line.&text=1.6%20million%20older%20people%20live,Credit%20were%20not%20claiming%20it.
[7] https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/three-five-britons-say-cost-living-has-increased-start-coronavirus-crisis
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3672844/
[9] ] https://www.icnarc.org/Our-Audit/Audits/Cmp/Reports

 

Author


Katie Herman

Katie joined Capgemini Invent in October 2019 as an Associate Consultant within the Accelerate Programme. Her previous experience is largely within Financial Services. She has a keen focus on and passion for operations.

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