BEFORE the onset of COVID-19, the aged in our community relied on regular social and health enhancing activities to keep them socially engaged and active.
With lockdowns and restrictions these activities abruptly ceased and some have not restarted. When you consider that these activities helped the aged keep physically and mentally healthy it now needs to be asked what effect the cessation has had and how aged care services have adapted.
Fiona is a spritely 86-year-old who has been running a dance class for seniors for decades. When the pandemic hit it was shut down. As dancing requires holding of hands and closeness to partners it has not restarted.
The classes gave Fiona not only her social engagement but a sense of purpose.
"My husband is in dementia care and the classes were an escape from the worry of that as well as the chance to talk and laugh with people," Fiona said.
"Now time sits heavy on my hands and I wonder it is time for me to go," she laments.
June is an 84-year-old nursing home resident who volunteered at a church op shop twice a week.
When the lockdown lifted the church decided not to have volunteers of June's age return due to their COVID-vulnerable risk. This has left June anxious and unhappy as this was her only regular outing. She looks pale and wasted.
"I thinks I have TMB," she jokes, "That stands for Too Many Birthdays."
Richard is a nursing home resident who enjoyed activities run by outside contractors in music therapy, games and performances. These stopped and his family contact was reduced to phone calls only.
He now spends more time in his room gazing at the television or sitting dejectedly on his balcony.
Owen Lednor, business development manager for the Nambucca Valley Care, a group of aged care homes and facilities, tells of the effect of the pandemic on the well-being of the aged, how activities can return to a pre-COVID level and how organisations like his are introducing strategies to re-engage the elderly post-pandemic.
"We heard multiple stories of the aged in our community suddenly losing easy access to the regular support service they relied upon. We saw a fear of visitors, and we worked hard to build systems to keep families in contact safely," Owen said.
The effect on the well-being of clients is described by Owen.
"The limited access to vital service like exercise groups, religious and social groups affected the aged's well-being. Personally I believe the biggest impact was the lack of access to family supports for those in care," he said.
The important question is: Can services return to normal post-pandemic?
"I really do believe that it is possible to return to normal. I was watching an elderly specific exercise class last week. I saw them smiling, chatting and moving! All the while they maintained social distancing. We are seeing our services returning to normal numbers already," Owen said.
He described the multiple strategies his organisation has used to re-engage the elderly.
"We have suggested that people use our cafes as safe meeting places. We have worked on a video physical activity program with NSW Health that has shown incredible results. We have a group counselling program and also offer in person or online counselling sessions," Owen said.
"Along with this we have continued providing outreach and care provision services and our safe exercise programs."
While we look to the aged care sector to adapt within homes, Owen offered some timely advice to communities as a whole.
"This has been a challenging time which sees us all increasingly aware of our mental health needs. I believe that any negative impact COVID has had will be overcome and allow us to come out stronger and more aware," he said.
"As we enter 2021 it is still important to check on your elderly friends, family members and neighbours to see how they are coping."
The aged care industry is under review and assessment like never before but as they can only do so much is it now the time for the general public to ask, "What can I do to help the aged in my community during these stressful times?".