Older people delayed seeking medical help while cocooning

By June Shannon Coronavirus News   |   29th Jan 2021

Findings from Trinity College reveal stark health impacts of cocooning for older people during the pandemic

Almost one in six older people have reported that they did not seek medical attention for an illness when they usually would have done, while cocooning during the COVID-19 pandemic late last year, new research has found.

The study by researchers from Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital outlines the health impacts faced by older people while cocooning during the pandemic.

According to the findings, half of those who did not seek medical attention for an illness said this was because they were afraid of catching COVID-19.

The research also found that more than 40 per cent  of participants reported a decline in their physical health since cocooning and 1 in 5 reported not leaving their house at all since being advised to cocoon.

Furthermore, the study found that almost 40 per cent of participants reported that their mental health was worse or much worse since the start of cocooning, and more than 57 per cent reported loneliness at least some of the time while cocooning with 1 in 8 reporting that they were lonely ‘very often’. Participants were almost twice as likely to report loneliness if they lived alone.

" We must give a clear message to older people that when you are unwell that you should seek medical attention,"

Dr Laura Bailey, Specialist Registrar in Geriatric Medicine,, St James’s Hospital, Dublin

Despite the negative impacts on their physical and mental health, more than 60 per cent of participants reported that they agreed with the government advice regarding cocooning while one quarter of participants reported that they did not agree with the advice.

Over 40 per cent of participants reported that they disliked the term ‘cocooning’ however, while almost 10 per cent reported that they liked the term.

The research which was carried out from October to December 2020 examines trends in physical and mental health, access to healthcare services and attitudes to Covid-19 while cocooning amongst people aged 70 years or more who did not contract Covid-19.

Cocooning involves staying at home and reducing face-to-face interaction with other people and is an important part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with an overall aim to prevent transmission to vulnerable older people. However, concerns exist regarding the long-term adverse effects it may have on their physical and mental health.

“These findings highlight the potential secondary impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older people,"

Dr Robert Briggs, Consultant Geriatrician, St James’s Hospital,

Dr Robert Briggs, Medical Gerontology, Trinity College and Consultant Geriatrician, St James’s Hospital, Dublin and senior author of the study said, “These findings highlight the potential secondary impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older people. While cocooning is important and reduces the likelihood of older people becoming unwell with COVID-19, there may be important adverse impacts on the health of those who cocoon that also need to be addressed. Given the possibility of further waves of COVID-19, with the likelihood of ongoing restrictions despite the rollout of vaccines, clear policies and advice for older people around strategies to maintain social engagement, manage loneliness and continue physical activity should be a priority.’’

Dr Laura Bailey, Specialist Registrar in Geriatric Medicine, St James’s Hospital, Dublin and first author of the study said, “It is a particular worry that 1 in 6 older people who were acutely unwell did not seek medical attention, often for fear of contracting Covid-19. We must give a clear message to older people that when you are unwell that you should seek medical attention and that hospitals and general practices have appropriate infection control practices in place and continue to deal with non-Covid-19 related medical issues.’’

To view the study ‘Physical and Mental Health of Older People while Cocooning during the COVID-19 Pandemic’’, as published in the Quarterly Journal of Medicine, please see here. 

We are here for you 

We are living in difficult and uncertain times and here at the Irish Heart Foundation we are very aware of the extra challenges people living with the effects of heart disease and stroke face.

For general health queries you can contact the Irish Heart Foundation’s nurse support line Our nurses are available on phone and email support Monday to Friday 9 am to 1pm pm. Call 01 6685001 or email support@irishheart.ie

We have also developed a range of resources to help people living with cardiovascular disease to stay well while staying at home. These include general information on the coronavirus, tips and advice on ways to keep active while staying at home and ideas on ways to eat well and mind your mental health. You can access all this information here.

We also have a range of online support services and groups you can learn more about the supports available here

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