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Churches urged to prepare as millions of older people face potential public health emergency

by Tola Mbakwe

A charity has warned that millions of older people are facing a potential public health emergency as they struggle alone, physically and mentally deteriorate and cannot properly grieve during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Age UK says Covid-19 has "hit the fast-forward button on ageing", with a substantial group of people left "frightened, depressed and very much alone". 

As cases rise, the charity said it hopes the Government will resist "ageist siren calls" to shut older people away.

A survey for the charity of 1,364 people over the age of 60 in September found that more than a third feel more anxious (34 per cent) and less motivated to do things they enjoy (36 per cent ) since the start of the pandemic.

Carl Knightly, CEO of Faith in Later Life, which is a Christian charity that seeks to serve and empower older people, told Premier the statistics are sad but not shocking. 

"We've been doing this [the pandemic] a long time… about seven months and it's been particularly difficult for older people because of shielding and health," he said. "Now we were looking at a second lockdown of sorts, it's going to be very difficult."

Around a quarter (26 per cent) said they cannot walk as far as they used to, a fifth (20 per cent) are finding their memory has declined and 18 per cent  are feeling less steady on their feet.

Almost two thirds (64 per cent) now feel less confident in taking public transport and a quarter (26 per cent) feel less confident in spending time with family.

Knightly told Premier he's found that some older people in good health were actually frustrated that they were told to stay indoors in the beginning of the pandemic. 

He added: "But then a huge swathe of older people I've spoken to have just been anxious, and fearful to leave their house or to have people in the house and are unsure about how to proceed."

Age UK is launching a winter resilience campaign to help boost older people's health and morale.

Meanwhile, Carl Knightly has urged churches to prepare to serve older people as parts of the nation go back to living under tightened coronavirus restrictions. 

"We need to remember that we're physically distanced, we're not socially distancing," Knightly said.  

"And that's the term that's used, but I don't think that's correct. We need to engage with our older friends, neighbours, church members, even older members of our family. That means we're reaching out to them, whether that's on the phone, or in another way, we need to ensure that we're speaking to people so we can listen to people."

"Starting within our church family, I think it's important that we remember the older members of our church who might not be logging onto YouTube or Zoom for church. As churches let's be thinking about setting up telephone rotas to make sure we're checking in on our older members, but also encouraging us as a whole body of Christ to think about how we can be the hope of Jesus in our neighbourhoods."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "We know the huge impact this pandemic is having on many older people, and we remain committed to supporting those at higher risk, including prioritising them for testing and doing everything possible to support the clinically extremely vulnerable in order to protect their health.

"NHS services have adapted to remain open throughout this time so those most in need continue to receive high quality care and we also provided £10.2m to national and local mental health charities to support those affected."

Listen to Premier's interview with Carl Knightly here: 

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