The COVID-19 Rehabilitation Pandemic

Sarah De Biase; Laura Cook; Dawn A. Skelton; Miles Witham; Ruth ten Hove


Age Ageing. 2020;49(5):696-700. 

In This Article

Indirect Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

In many countries, a strategy of 'lockdown' has been implemented to try and contain the pandemic. Such approaches typically place restrictions on movement, with people confined to their homes for long periods, and also limit social contact from families and friends. Older adults (particularly those living with multimorbidity and frailty) have often been subject to even stricter isolation than the general population. This places them at even greater risk of increased sedentary behaviour and associated outcomes of deconditioning, balance deficits, increased falls risk and worsening and/or new mental health problems.[7] Wider societal issues such as loneliness, bereavement and poverty will impact further on older people's quality of life.[8]

In addition, normal health and social care delivery in many countries has been suspended to divert resources to dealing with acute COVID-19 infections. Healthcare interventions aimed at improving or maintaining function (e.g. hip replacement surgery, falls prevention programmes) are unable to continue, with potential deleterious effects on function. In combination, these issues risk worsening health, physical and psychological function for millions of older people who have not suffered from COVID-19 infection directly. As movement restrictions are lifted, the consequences of these indirect effects of the pandemic will become apparent, with the release of pent-up demand for rehabilitation services. Again, effective rehabilitation strategies need to anticipate this and plan sufficient capacity to respond to this demand.