Coronavirus lockdown anxiety fuelling malnutrition cases among elderly, Age UK warns

The organisations cited case studies, including that of Nigel, to illustrate the point. Nigel, identified as at risk of malnutrition, has no food in his house and is scared to leave home and go to the shops because of coronavirus. 

He is also not online and was recently discharged from hospital but no longer gets any support at home. He was told that food parcels would be delivered, but only received one some time ago. He is now out of food and has no family or friends who can help him.

Another example is 79-year-old Betty, who has emphysema. Her friend topped up her gas meter because she does not have the funds to do it herself and is unable to go out. Betty is very conscious of using heating and is currently using a blanket to keep warm.

She has no food other some bread and bacon given to her by a neighbour. The local Age UK, or social services, contacted her about arranging a delivery of food, but she is worried that this might not happen. Betty is lonely, has no support and is unable to contact a GP because she does not have much phone credit or enough money to top it up.

Becoming malnourished can have serious health implications for older people, increasing the risk of infection, worsening any existing long-term conditions and leading to a greater risk of falls. It also makes it harder for people to recover from an episode of ill health – a particular concern during the virus outbreak.  

Age UK’s local community hubs are shopping and delivering food parcels every day, but the charity says “there is always a worry that there are people out there that we do not know about”.

A total of 93 local Age UK branches, 70 per cent of the network, reported that they made 37,315 food deliveries, including parcels and shopping, between April 20 and May 1. 

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s director, said: “We know there are older people living on their own in the community who are running out of food and struggling to replenish their supplies, less because of lack of money and more because they are too frightened to go out, confused by the guidance or because their usual support networks have collapsed as a result of the pandemic. 

“These people are not on anyone’s list, and in many cases they manage perfectly well during normal times. Typically, they are not online and not inclined to ask for help. However, the pandemic has pulled the rug out from under them, so their usual strategies for getting by day by day are no longer working. 

“We need to do everything we can to reach these older people, who are otherwise at really serious risk of malnutrition and worse as the days and weeks of this pandemic go on.”

Dianne Jeffrey, the MTF chairman, added: “We know that now, more than ever, it’s essential that we are all eating enough to maintain our health and well-being, so reports that many older people are struggling without the usual social care support or support of families and friends to shop, cook, eat and drink are particularly worrying.

“More needs to be done to ensure older people are getting the right help and support to remain nourished and hydrated. Malnutrition also makes it harder to recover from an episode of ill health, which is particularly worrying during this pandemic.”

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