Older Australians are feeling the effects of lockdown, with anxiety, confusion and the physical and mental effects of social isolation taking its toll, says Australia’s leading seniors advocacy group.
They’re confused about how deeply to isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic and are calling for clarity on social isolation rules.
The lack of clarity could lead to depression and even suicide, Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates told The Australian.
“Meaningful social connection is central to everyone’s health and wellbeing, including older Australians,” said Mr Yates.
“But older Australians living alone and those in aged care homes can often feel isolated at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a pandemic where they are encouraged to avoid company for their own safety.”
Social isolation restrictions are being relaxed for much of the population. However, little is being done to update over-70s who continue to follow formal advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee that they should self-isolate.
This advice has remained unchanged since March.
“When the Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy and his deputy, Paul Kelly, were asked to clarify the position more recently, they said older Australians should continue to ‘exercise caution’,” said Mr Yates.
“This advice isn’t clear. Restrictions for the community as a whole have been eased, and guidelines specifically tailored for many different circumstances.
“But for older people, who have been told from the get-go they are being considered as an especially vulnerable group, the advice hasn’t changed and there’s been no further guidance.
“Many were scared early and basically withdrew from all contact,” he said of the initial advice – which he agrees was absolutely correct.
“It was understandable in the early days of the pandemic as they watched the numbers overseas.
“But we are getting feedback from people today who have remained very isolated throughout the pandemic, and no one has given them a clear pathway out.
“We are beginning to get some sense of quite negative effects of isolation, which manifest in anxiety and depression and could result in suicide, to which older men are especially vulnerable.”
Clearer guidelines for older people are more essential than ever Mr Yates explained and he stressed that those guidelines should consider medical vulnerabilities rather than just age.
“Whatever the considered medical view is, it needs to be explicit. If it’s the same for everyone, say so. If it’s different for older people, say so. And remember that just because you are in your 70s or 80s, it doesn’t mean you are ill.”
A federal health department spokesperson said there was “currently no advice that older Australians should be isolating across the board, though they are still encouraged to stay at home as much as possible unless it is for essential purposes like food shopping, medical appointments and exercise”.
However, the federal government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for older people information page – last updated 13 May 2020 – clearly states that older people should stay 1.5 metres away (two arms’ length) from other people, continue to stay at home, avoid contact with others and avoid all non-essential travel.
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