Coronavirus and older people

Coronavirus molecules

Coronavirus: information for older people on general health and wellbeing

To reduce the risk of infection from Coronavirus, the government has recommended that people aged 70 and over engage in social distancing for an extended period of time and for those with symptoms of Coronavirus to self-isolate. If you are in this age group then it is likely that you will be spending more time at home, having less contact with others and anxious about the potential effects of the virus. While the focus of attention on the news and internet and for many people is on Coronavirus, during this time it is also important to look after your general health and wellbeing. This includes:     

Keeping physically active

Keeping physically active is important for physical and mental health and wellbeing. Not being active, even over relatively short periods of time, can result in muscles becoming smaller and loss of strength.

While you may be unable to participate in your regular activities, it is important to try and remain physically active, carrying out exercises to maintain muscle strength, balance and flexibility. These can be done at home or in the garden if possible. You should avoid extended periods of sitting, reclining or lying while awake – for example get up every hour and make a drink or do some housework.  There are lots of online resources including:

Ways to keep moving 

NHS low impact exercises at home

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

Healthy eating

Whether you are being supplied with food by other people or buying it yourself, you should make sure that you are eating enough of the right food and drink. Some older people have an increased risk of not getting enough nutrients or calories. The British Dietetic Association's website has lots of information about Coronavirus and eating and drinking well, including:

  • 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 you do get ill, it’s important to eat and drink regularly, even if you 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 higher if you 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; you should take a 10 microgram supplement each day (available from pharmacies or supermarkets).

Reducing loneliness and social isolation

If you are social distancing or self-isolating it’s likely that you are going to be having less contact with friends, family and other people. There are still loads of ways of staying in touch - via phone including Skype or WhatsApp, email or social media. It would be a good idea to check in with other older people you know as they may well be feeling the increased lack of contact. As well as connecting you with people you know, the internet can also be used to connect with others with the same interests. Citizens online have produced a useful list of resources to help people stay in touch, including how to get set up on Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook. If technology isn’t a strong point, why not ask someone to help you.

Mental health and wellbeing

Being anxious about Coronavirus, reducing your contact with other people, being required to stay at home and changing your routine all have the potential to impact on mental health and wellbeing. Developing a routine, keeping physically active, connecting with others, and learning or developing new skills can all help. There is lots of information online to help tackle anxiety and maintain your mental health:

Mind – Coronavirus and your wellbeing

NHS – Coronavirus staying at home tips  

Every Mind Matters – Coronavirus anxiety tips

Healthy home environments

As you are going to be spending more time at home, it is important that your home environment supports your health. Make sure it is warm enough if the temperature drops and keep windows open to let in fresh air and get natural sunlight if and when possible. You can also check your home for hazards that might increase the risk of accidents such as falls and take action if necessary. The Age UK Home Safety Checker is a useful guide.

Age UK have a useful set of resources on their website covering many of the areas above.

This is a challenging time, but there are still loads of things that you can do to support your general health and wellbeing.