Winter could cause a 'wave of frailty' among elderly cocooners

Physio Dearbhla Burke

Eilish O'Regan

Fears are growing that a rise in the spread of Covid-19, combined with a tendency to stay indoors more during winter, will lead to a "wave of frailty" among cocooners, leaving them at greater risk of fractures.

Physiotherapists are already reporting seeing the negative impact of sheltering on some older people who adhered to the stay-at-home message when Covid-19 was at its height earlier this year.

Dearbhla Burke and Grainne O'Hara, physiotherapists at the Orthopapaedic Hospital of Ireland in Clontarf, appealed to older people to stay as active as they can in the coming months while taking precautions to reduce exposure to Covid-19.

"We are seeing patients coming in and who did not do much during cocooning. They missed out on their regular routine going to the shops and church," they said.

"They are vulnerable people for the second wave of Covid-19.

"Keeping active can include walking around the house, getting up and down from your chair, going out to the garden and maybe arranging with a family member or neighbour if need be to go out for a walk.


"It is important to maintain their muscle mass."

There is concern that as Covid-19 spreads in more counties and the colder weather sets in, older people will abandon their established routines.

"We need to prevent cocooners from coming into hospital," the physios said.

"Winter is always a stressful time for fractures and flu. People can get a lot less fitter."

Older people who were in need of hip surgeries in March had the operations delayed due to Covid-19, and they are taking longer to get back on their feet.

The advice to older people who are cautious about Covid- 19 and the colder months ahead is to try to build as much movement as they can into their day.

The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists has advised seniors to:

Exercise outdoors during non-peak times, adhering to national social distancing guidelines.

Wear supportive shoes.

Dress for the weather, which includes wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30-plus.

If you have been advised to use a walking stick or walker, bring it with you.

If nervous, ask a family member to go with you to build up your confidence with outdoor exercise.

Wait at least one hour after eating a large meal before exercising.

Stay hydrated. Aim to drink eight glasses of water throughout the day. You may need to drink more on warmer days.

Set realistic goals. Start low and go slow, building your fitness back up. Slow and steady wins the race.

Exerting yourself makes you breathless, which is normal. Stop and rest for two or three minutes if you start to become breathless.

It is not normal if you feel dizzy or develop chest pain.

Seek advice from your GP, or if you develop new chest pain attend your nearest emergency department.

After periods of inactivity there is a higher risk of developing a blood clot in your leg.

Look out for new signs such as severe calf pain, swelling in one leg, red or discoloured skin on the leg, a feeling of warmth in the leg.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms contact a GP without delay.

Earlier this year, researchers at the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) at Trinity College Dublin analysed how the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent measures to "flatten the curve" have affected adults over 50 in Ireland.

People aged 70 and over were directed to stay indoors, curtail social visits from friends and family and halt outdoor exer- cise - activities that shape everyday routine and quality of life.

Ageist terminology was sometimes employed by the media and others, the study added.