COVID-19's impact on elderly a concern

COVID-19's impact on elderly a concern

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, March 15, 2020

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THE impact of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the elderly population could have grave implications for the life expectancy rate of the country, according to public health and ageing specialist Professor Denise Eldemire Shearer.

However, Eldemire Shearer also pointed out that in relation to COVID-19, there have been no observations regarding a low life expectancy in other countries where the elderly population has taken a hit. Subsequently, she remains hopeful for Jamaica.

“We are not seeing where it has done that, so we are going to pray and we are going to hope that Jamaica stays in keeping with the rest. We are more about managing serious illness in older people and having the supportive mechanisms to treat the pneumonias that they might get rather than worrying about the death rate,” she said.

Globally, Italy has more cases of COVID-19 and more deaths than anywhere outside of China where the virus first emerged last December. This despite being one of the first countries in Europe to institute a travel ban and declare a state of emergency for six months beginning January 30.

On Friday the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that there were 15,113 confirmed cases and 1,016 deaths in Italy. Other data said there were 1,439 cases of people who have recovered from the virus. The majority of those affected are the country's elderly population.

In relation to Italy, Professor Eldemire Shearer said she read a comment in which the question was asked: 'Who do you put on a ventilator when you have an 80-year-old and a 30-year-old?' The implication was that losing the elderly would reduce the burden on the economy. But Professor Eldemire Shearer quickly rubbished the thought.

“Are they really a burden? Yes, you may have the 10 per cent that are unwell, but 90 per cent of them are well. They may use walkers, they may use canes, but in our 2012 study, which is the latest one, most of them are actually well. The majority own their own homes — 78 per cent own their own homes. The younger ones that think they are a burden are 'kotching' with them. In many instances they continue to contribute to society. They are paying light bill, water bill, phone bill and they are providing childcare in many instances. They are helping younger members of their family. Some of them do continue to work and pay taxes. They pay property taxes. They are contributing to the economy, but more importantly for me they are contributing to family units,” Professor Eldemire Shearer said.

Further, she said in educating older people about the disease, their difficulties need to be taken into account.

“They don't hear as well, they don't always see as well. They need big print. The material coming out is excellent — you have seen all the WHO materials and all of that, but if you look at them, they are quite fine print. So it's about the family members not assuming that older people may have been informed but taking time to maybe show it to them, read it to them,” she said.

“Let us ensure they are getting the information, given their hearing and sight restrictions. I have patients who will say yes, and when I ask them what I said they say 'I didn't hear you', but they answered. They will say 'I can't bother to beg pardon all the while.' Therefore, you need to ensure they are getting the information,” she argued.

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