The elderly are particularly affected by the effects of the coronavirus. Virologist Christian Drosten even estimates the mortality rate in coronavirus patients over 80 years old to be between 20 and 25 percent. Some seniors are driven by fear of infection into social isolation.
Loneliness can make you sick. In a study, researchers from the French University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines found that single people are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to develop mental illnesses than other people. Diseases include depression and anxiety disorders. The statistical connection between living alone and illnesses existed especially among people who felt lonely.
Professor Vjera Holthoff-Detto, chief physician at the Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics at the Alexianer Hedwigshöhe Hospital, explains how to deal with the fears of the elderly and whether self-isolation is the right measure .
Professor Holthoff-Detto, are there currently many older patients who are worried about the coronavirus?
That is definitely an issue in the clinic, both for visitors as well as for the patients themselves. The hygiene regulations are adapted to the situation, there are notices that indicate individual measures. Of course, older people also have questions about it. But we do not see a very sharp increase.
However, there is a special hospital situation in which the patients are constantly confronted with various diseases. Basically, older people ask more of their own health interests than younger ones.
How can you calm older people without the risks of Trivialize disease?
I think it it is very important that we do not downplay or appease. First of all, we have to clearly tell every non-infected person what they can do to avoid getting sick. If someone is already infected and is under medical treatment, one should openly comment on the symptoms of the disease. My biggest concern, however, is that people no longer go out the door for fear of infection and no longer take sufficient care of themselves. Imagine someone who is 86 years old, usually goes shopping once a day and doesn’t do that now.
More background information on the corona virus :
- Coronavirus FAQ: 66 important questions and answers about SARS-CoV-2
- Closures, hotlines, contact points: You need to know, here you can get help in Berlin
- Sick of the coronavirus or just a cold? What you know about the symptoms
- From China to Italy: All developments worldwide regarding the corona virus on our blog
Do you think self-insulation is harmful?
I advocate self-isolation in which people are still cared for. But it doesn’t work that easy for older people living alone. So you have to explain to them how to behave when shopping. You should always keep a distance of two meters from others and do not start at the main shopping hours.
It would be even better to get help and let a friend do the shopping for several days. These things may sound banal, but they are incredibly effective.
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How should old people’s and nursing homes deal with the topic, especially when it comes to contact with relatives? Should the contact be allowed or is the risk of infection too great?
There are also hygiene recommendations in these cases. This is a question that we as a hospital ask ourselves as well. We always have to weigh up: How good is personal contact with relatives in relation to the risk of infection? I think every member of the family who has signs of an infection – fever, swelling or coughing – should refrain from visiting at the moment.
Of course there are exceptions: If someone is really seriously ill and the visit cannot be postponed because of this. Visits are therefore reduced to a minimum without completely refraining from them. There are many life situations, especially in homes or in hospitals, in which you cannot prevent the family from contacting the sick. Many visits are also important for recovery.
Older people can deal better with the risk of infection because they face many difficult situations have experienced?
I think the concern for one’s own health is similar in size to that of middle-aged people. But the older people are confident that they can handle all of this. This does not mean that they are not afraid to fall ill. Many have learned in their lives how important it is to follow medical instructions. In our experience, older patients are very careful and reliable. If you understand what it is about and have precise instructions for action, then follow them too, to the advantage of everyone else.