Social isolation speeds up aging

Olga Tkachyova, Director of the Russian Gerontology Research and Clinical Center and Chief Geriatrician of the Russian Healthcare Ministry, spoke about treating and preventing the coronavirus infection in senior citizens and gave advice on maintaining good health throughout one’s life, during an online conference.

Last month, the Russian Gerontology Research and Clinical Center started accepting patients with COVID-19. The center’s doctors have successfully treated about 500 patients.

“A ninety-seven-year-old woman was recently released. Breathing exercises helped her to recover from the coronavirus,” Olga Tkachyova said.

She added that COVID-19 in older patients may be aggravated due to pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Older patients are at a higher risk of blood-clotting and may show such unusual symptoms as cognitive disorders and memory loss.

Therefore, it is very important that senior patients are taken care of by a multi-disciplinary team of doctors. They need to be monitored not only by general practitioners but also by cardiologists, neurologists, immunologists and other specialists.

Doctors must follow up on their older patients after recovery as the ‘train’ of ailments may linger on for quite a long time, including shortness of breath, heart problems and psychological issues. By complying with lockdown restrictions, we are first and foremost taking care of our parents and grandparents, Tkachyova stressed.

“Hearing the words “social isolation” hurts my ears as a geriatrician because isolation accelerates aging and allows illnesses to progress. But you have to choose the lesser of the two evils, which is self-isolation. Still, we need to understand that it is a very serious ordeal for older people. After all, movement, socializing and continuous development are fundamental for health and good well-being. It is the responsibility of family members, neighbors and volunteers to help the elderly to go through this period with minimum losses.”

Indeed, since the lockdown many people have been significantly less active. Lack of movement results in losing muscle weight, worsening coordination and motor skills, which increases the risk of falling and breaking limbs.

Olga Tkachyova recommends older people to come out of self-isolation gradually and very carefully. She warns that geriatricians and trauma surgeons are expecting a surge in injuries among the elderly once the lockdown is lifted.

What can be done to prevent fractures and falls? Senior citizens should start with simple exercises and breathing to saturate brain with oxygen. They should keep socializing and learning as our physical activity and cognitive ability are closely related.

Gerontologists believe that youth is not so much about the number in your passport as it is about your physical and mental well-being, the ability to think clearly and be reasonable about your capabilities.

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