THE NEW OLD AGE The Pandemic Has Made Many Seniors Less Active

Great article from the NYTimes – very relevant for all therapists who work with seniors.

Health experts are concerned that the pandemic, in upending daily routines, has reduced mobility and physical conditioning in older adults.  Reprinted from the NYTimes 2/5/2022 Paula Span

In normal times, Cindy Myers, an executive at a nonprofit organization, is “not a real physical person,” she said. “I work at desk jobs. I’m not a big exerciser.” Still, before the pandemic, Dr. Myers, who is 64 and has a doctorate in organization development, commuted from her home in Petaluma, Calif., to an office in San Francisco. She met friends for lunch or coffee, and she went to restaurants, theaters and lectures with her wife. “There was so much more variety in my life, more locations, more people,” she said. “You’re not cognizant of all the moves you’re making.”

Like many employees, Dr. Myers has now been working remotely for two years, curtailing social and cultural events and forgoing travel. That shift, perhaps exacerbated by a bout of depression in 2020, has taken a physical toll, she said. Her limbs feel weak, her balance rocky; she has fallen several times. “Basic kinds of movement you take for granted, like walking from one end of the house to the other, are exhausting,” she said. “I’m worried about it.”Many health experts are worried about worsening physical conditioning and mobility among older adults since Covid-19 upended the daily routine. Recent research indicates that many of those who had mild to moderate infections, even some who have managed to avoid the virus altogether, may be suffering functional declines.

To date, much of the attention paid to the pandemic’s effects on the older population has focused on its frightful mortality rate: Nearly three-quarters of Americans who have died have been 65 or older. Researchers have also reported that, unsurprisingly, older adults whose Covid symptoms became serious enough to require hospitalization often contended with persistent physical and mental health problems. “When you’re hospitalized and you’re older, it takes a long time to get back on your feet,” said Marla Beauchamp, who researches mobility, aging and chronic disease at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “Covid is still impacting them in a significant way months and months later.”

But less severe disease can also affect their physical ability. Dr. Beauchamp led a recent study of Canadians over 50 who had confirmed, probable or suspected Covid in 2020, when testing was not widely available. The study revealed worsened mobility among those with mild to moderate illness — 93 percent of whom were never hospitalized — compared with those without Covid. Nearly half of those 65 and older who had contracted Covid reported less ability to engage in physical activity like walking and exercising than before the pandemic — but so did about one-quarter of those who did not become infected. Smaller proportions of those uninfected said their ability to move around the house, and to do housework like dishwashing and dusting, had also declined. Although some of that decline might reflect normal aging, the study measured changes over only a nine-month period. In people who did not develop Covid, “the most plausible reason for the decline is public health restrictions during the pandemic,” Dr. Beauchamp said. Declines in physical function are showing up in older Americans, too. A University of Michigan team surveyed about 2,000 American adults aged 50 to 80 in early 2021, asking about their activity levels (but not about their Covid status).

It found that almost 40 percent of those over 65 reported both reduced physical activity and less daily time spent on their feet since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. In this representative national sample, those factors were associated with worsened physical conditioning and mobility.

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