New Age UK analysis finds that the experience of living through the fear, enforced isolation and inactivity caused by the pandemic has sharply accelerated the care needs of significant numbers of older people.
The latest figures show that 1.2million older people aged 60+ in the UK who had difficulty walking up and down the stairs before the first lockdown in March 2020 report this activity has become even more difficult for them since then, while 1.45 million of the 60+ population now have difficulty walking short distances outside when previously this did not pose problems for them at all. 3.8 million (23%) older people’s ability to do everyday activities has worsened since the first lockdown.
The Charity is calling on the Government to commit to concrete action in the Queen’s Speech today to strengthen and expand the provision of social care in England, in order to meet this growing need.
Age UK’s research backs up what the Charity is seeing and hearing from older people and their families and from the professionals who work with them too: being cooped up at home for long periods, unable to go out and about as usual, and lacking the mental and physical stimulation of being with others and engaging in their usual activities has taken a real toll on many older people.
Physically, muscles have weakened and wasted and strength, balance and flexibility have been undermined.
Mentally, decreased human contact and intellectual stimulation have caused some older people’s dementia or other form of cognitive decline to progress more quickly than would otherwise have been the case. In addition, some older people’s self- confidence has been seriously eroded as they have got out of the habit of going out and about and participating in social activity, while others are experiencing intensified anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, the difficulty or impossibility of accessing timely medical treatment during the pandemic has led some older people’s long term health conditions to become significantly worse.
The latest analysis shows:
- Two in five (42%) of over 60s in the UK, around 1.2 million, who had difficulty walking up and down the stairs before the first lockdown in March 2020 reported this activity became more difficult since then.
- Two in five (42%) of over 60s in the UK, almost 950,000, who had difficulty walking short distances outside before the first lockdown in March 2020 reported this activity became more difficult since then.
- More than a third (36%) of over 60s in the UK, around 520,000, who had difficulty showering, having a bath or washing before the first lockdown in March 2020 reported this activity became more difficult since then.
- More than 2 in 5 (43%) of over 60s in the UK, around 416,000, who had difficulty preparing and cooking food before the first lockdown in March 2020 reported this activity became more difficult since then.
- One in ten (10%) of over 60s, around 1.6 million, now have difficulty walking up & down stairs when previously they did not
- One in ten (9%) of over 60s in the UK, around 1.45 million, now have difficulty walking short distances outside when previously they did not
- Approaching one in ten (8%) of over 60s in the UK, almost 1.3 million, now have difficulty cleaning and tidying their house when previously they did not.
Social care has been on the front-line of the COVID-19 pandemic and tragically Care England there have been 30,000 deaths of care homes residents and nearly 900 deaths of care home staff[i] The social care workforce has demonstrated unwavering commitment, but the pandemic has also demonstrated how fragile and fragmented care services often are in England – adding up to something more like a cottage industry than the effective and reliable system which older people need. Against the context of all we have seen over the last year the Charity says that the case for the transformational change and reform of social care has never been stronger.
Before the pandemic struck Age UK estimated that 1.6 million people aged 65 and over did not receive the care and support they need in England, warning that this could grow to 2.1 million people by 2030. The Charity says that unless Government now directs significantly more investment into social care as part of a package of reforms these numbers are likely to be underestimates, because of the adverse impact of the pandemic on older people’s health and resilience.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:
“It’s really sad that the pandemic has taken such a toll on the mobility, confidence and capacity of millions of older people to live independently without extra support. Specialists in older people’s health warned that this was likely to happen after months of enforced isolation, inactivity and lack of stimulation and, unfortunately, our new analysis shows they were absolutely right. The inevitable consequence of this pandemic related damage is that older people’s demand for social care is set to go up quite markedly, beyond what would otherwise have been expected.”
“What matters now is that the Government recognises this is happening and makes the extra investments and reforms needed to beef up and expand our care services so they can meet this growing need. Before the pandemic we already knew that 1.6 million older people had some unmet need for care, but our new research means this awful statistic could rocket even higher this year unless the Government acts fast. We must never forget too that behind the cold statistics are real older people who with the right care and support could be living much happier, safer and healthier lives. At Age UK we often hear how miserable and downright frightening it can be to struggle on your own with essential tasks like getting out of bed and washing that you used to take for granted but which now carry the risk of you falling, doing you serious harm. That’s what’s at stake here for older people who find themselves in this difficult position and surely its incumbent on us as a society to make sure they get the care and support they need.
“The fact that the pandemic has intensified some older people’s need for care, while battering the workforce and undermining care services, means the gap between the care system we have and the one we need here in England is growing by the day. With the horrors visited on care homes by COVID-19 and the heroism of our underpaid care workers still fresh in all our minds, it is more important than ever that the Prime Minister “fixes social care”. A clear statement to this effect in the Queen’s Speech would give us hope that he and his Government really do intend to follow through this year.”
Some responses[ii] from our online survey promoted through Age UK Networks include: