Physical health among confined seniors at risk of deteriorating: experts

The condition of seniors who are confined due to the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to deteriorate to the point where they won’t be able to enjoy their freedom once they get it back, according to an expert from l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).

“Right now, by not mobilizing our elders, these people who are more fragile than the rest of us are deteriorating,” said Mylène Aubertin-Leheudre, who works as the director of a lab that focuses on muscle function at l’UQAM. 

Sedentary lifestyles have an immense impact on seniors, Aubertin-Leheudre said. 

“Seven days in hospital is equal to 15 per cent less strength, simply because they are lying down,” she said. “So imagine six weeks.” 

Aubertin-Leheudre and her team are worried that seniors might not be able to recover once the pandemic finally ends. 

“It is all well and good to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in certain residences or in certain CHSLDs, or to treat it in hospitals,” she said. “But it should not be forgotten that the second mission is to make people healthy in the end, too.” 

Exercise program

A potential solution would be to develop strategies that allow seniors to be physically active while respecting social distancing guidelines. 

Teams of caregivers or independent seniors who are still at home must find “ways to keep seniors in shape and keep themselves mobilized at the muscular level,” Aubertin-Leheudre said. 

“Not just at the level of a small walk which will maintain a healthy heart and overall health, but also when it comes to their muscles and their strength,” she said. 

The researcher and her team have developed exercises that can be offered to seniors on paper, in the form of videos or live in virtual sessions. 

The exercises as simple as getting up from a chair, walking, walking around beds and chairs, or working on balance. The exercises have been designed for the home, hospital rooms or residences. 

“They shouldn’t be doing just anything,” she said. “When we’re old, we have several chronic problems, we have different difficulties, but the exercises are made for that.” 

The program is currently being used in a long-term care centre in Montreal. Aubertin-Leheudre said the exercises require very little time from staff, as they already have their hands full.

“(The exercises) have to be proposed to (the seniors),” she said. “I’m not saying it’s going to work everyone, but if we’re able to mobilize maybe half of the seniors versus none right now, half of them will have taken part in something.” 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2020. 

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