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Trinity medical students study the impact of COVID-19 on older adults

Trinity College Dublin (TCD) Medical Students published a review on the effects of the pandemic on the wellbeing of older adults

This study, conducted by six medical students from the School of Medicine in TCD, examined the effects of COVID-19 on older adults using the Biopsychosocial Model Framework. Older adults experience disproportionate morbidity and mortality from the disease because increasing age and the presence of other illnesses are associated with negative outcomes. Some patients experience lasting effects of COVID-19 even after they recover from the acute illness, despite eradication of the virus from the body. The impact of COVID-19 on older adults goes beyond a person’s biological health post-illness. The psychological and social impacts must also be acknowledged and addressed.

One of the study’s authors, Nazeefah Laher, explained the study’s design:

To assess the effects of the pandemic on older adults, we conducted a systematic review of studies that used the biopsychosocial model. This model explores the interconnection of psychological, social and biological mechanisms as the determinants of health and disease. It emphasises that a person’s physical state is heavily dependent on their social and mental state, and these elements of disease must be considered together rather than as separate entities. This is especially relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic, as it acknowledges the relationship between biological, psychological, and social status among patients. Individually, each component is insufficient to encompass the impact of illness and disease on a person’s health. Instead, it is the deep interrelation of all three factors that has to be considered.

Key findings from the review were that patients with pre-existing cardiovascular disease experienced a worsening of their condition during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 was also associated with declines in both cognitive and motor function and the development of new psychiatric diagnoses. The authors suggested that the necessary public health measures that were put in place to protect older and vulnerable populations, including social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines, paradoxically left older adults isolated and contributed to loneliness experienced by many people. Furthermore, as a disproportionate number of older adults work in at-risk jobs (most susceptible to shutdowns during lockdown) or essential services (where the risk of exposure is highest) they faced additional financial and health risks.

The study, which was co-authored by medical students Nazeefah Laher, Sara Bocchinfuso, Madeline, Chidiac, Claire Doherty, Alexandra Persson and Emma Warren, was published in the journal Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine and the full link can be accessed here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/23337214211034274