Coronavirus - supporting older people

Coronavirus: Promoting the general health and wellbeing of social distancing and self-isolating older people

Target audience

People, services and organisations providing support to older people who are self-distancing or self-isolating

Purpose of document

To provide information on promoting the general health and wellbeing of older people while they self-distance or self-isolate.

To reduce the risk of infection from Coronavirus, the government has recommended that people aged 70 and over engage in social distancing and for those with symptoms of Coronavirus to self-isolate.

There are a variety of ways that family, friends, carers and organisations can support older people to promote their general health and wellbeing. These include:

Supporting physically activity

Keeping physically active is important for physical and mental health and wellbeing. Inactivity, even over relatively short periods of time, results in muscle loss and an increased risk of frailty and falls.

While many older people may be unable to participate in their regular activities, they should be supported to be physically active including carrying out exercises to maintain muscle strength, balance and flexibility. This could be at home or in the garden if possible. They should also be encouraged to avoid extended periods of sitting, reclining or lying while awake – for example getting up every hour and making a drink or doing some housework.  There are many online resources including:

Ways to keep moving 

NHS low impact exercises for a home setting

Sport England - How to stay active while you are at home

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy resources

Super Six home exercises to improve strength and balance

Also check TV schedules for fitness shows

Ensuring adequate nutrition and avoiding malnutrition:

People or organisations providing food for self-distancing or self-isolating older people should make sure that what is being provided supports healthy eating and reduces the risk of malnutrition in older people. Healthy eating in general should be promoted and supported. The British Dietetic Association has produced information on Coronavirus and eating and drinking. They recommend:

  • Having a balanced diet made up of: high protein foods; dairy; starchy foods such bread cereals, potatoes, pasta or rice; fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juice); and 2 portions of oily fish a week.
  • Having at least 6-8 glasses/mugs of fluid every day.
  • If an older person gets ill, it’s important they eat and drink regularly, even if they don’t have much of an appetite. 6-8 mugs or large glasses a day for adults is advised but this may need to be more if they have a high temperature.
  • Tips to increase energy intake and protein: eat ‘little and often’, try not to have drinks just before meals to avoid feeling too full to eat and avoid low fat/diet versions of foods and drink. Choose meals that are enjoyable, easy to prepare and eat, and high in energy and protein.
  • Vitamin D protects bones and muscles; older people should take a 10 microgram supplement each day (available from pharmacies or supermarkets).

Reducing loneliness and social isolation

Social distancing or self-isolating older people should be supported to keep in touch with other people, including keeping in contact with their own older friends or relatives who may be lonely themselves. This could be via phone including Skype or WhatsApp, email or social media. Maintaining contact with friends and family while self-distancing or self-isolating is important; social media and the internet can also be used to connect with others with the same interests. The Citizens Online digital inclusion organisation has produced a useful list of resources to help people stay in touch, including how to set people up on Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook.

Mental health and wellbeing

Being anxious about Coronavirus, reducing contact with others, being required to stay at home and changing routines all have the potential to impact on mental health and wellbeing. Developing a routine, being physically active, connecting with others, and learning or developing new skills can all help. There is information online specifically to support people self-distancing and self-isolating:

Mind – Coronavirus and your wellbeing

NHS – Coronavirus staying at home tips  

Every Mind Matters – Coronavirus anxiety tips

Healthy home environments

As more time will be spent at home it is important to that the home environment is healthy. Older people should be encouraged to keep homes warm if the temperature drops and keep windows open to let in fresh air and get natural sunlight when possible. They should check the home for hazards that might increase the risk of accidents such as falls and take action where necessary. The Age UK Home Safety Checker is a useful guide.

Age UK have also produced a useful set of resources covering many of the areas above.

The key message is: this is a challenging time, but there are still lots of things that can be done to promote the general health and wellbeing of social distancing and self-isolating older people.

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