Depression, Self-Harm, Suicidal Thoughts Plagued Elderly in Lockdowns, COVID-19 Inquiry Hears


Pandemic lockdowns led to depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts among the elderly, the COVID-19 Inquiry heard on Thursday.

Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, told the inquiry that the charity had to offer new training for some of its helpline staff on “how to cope with people who are ringing up in great distress,” and “that only happened during and after the pandemic.”

The lockdowns “undoubtedly exacted a toll on many older people,” she said.

“That anxiety, and also … a great loss of confidence, coupled with the fact that if you stay still and you don’t move around so much, as an older person, then you stiffen up and your muscles tend to waste and then it’s physically very, very difficult to be able to get around,” Ms. Abrahams said.

Ms. Abrahams was questioned about a written statement she had submitted ahead of the hearing. In it, she said charity staff had “heard extensive testimony from older people experiencing neglect, self-harm, suicidal ideation, malnutrition, and substance misuse at home.”

She told the inquiry that old people had been frightened to go out. Some also cancelled care services to avoid infection, particularly when there was a shortage of personal protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic.

The access to medical care and other services were also interrupted, leading to a lack of treatment or the over-medication of patients.

In one case, a woman who had severe back pain couldn’t access support from her regular GP. She eventually found that her spine had been fractured in four places after being misdiagnosed by a doctor who checked her in her garden, and had no in-person follow up after the X-ray.

Earlier during the pandemic, when “there were lots of people very, very sick and dying in some care homes,” staff weren’t able to access palliative care, which Ms. Abrahams said had been “very patchy” even before the pandemic.

Whats more, because memory clinics and other activities that dementia patients may normally attend were no longer functioning, care home residents with dementia “either had the doses of their medication increased or were put on medication otherwise they wouldn’t have been on [sic], with some quite serious side effects.”

“One’s heart goes out to carers and families who found they were … There was no one to call for help, and they were with somebody who was profoundly unwell for long periods of time,” Ms. Abrahams said, adding that Age UK had no doubt it would have led “to neglect, to abuse, to enormous distress for carers and also for people being cared for.”

“It’s difficult enough caring for someone with dementia at the best of times, not like this, and day centres are often a great outlet for people, they give some—a good safe place for someone—somewhere to go, and the carer has a few hours off. But, as you’ve heard, those opportunities often disappeared. Those services had to close during the pandemic, and actually many of them have not reopened, so there’s an ongoing problem today,” she added.