I recently met with an elderly couple who had been active in their community until lockdown. Whilst they recognised that they were both elderly and had some frailties and one of them had developed early stage dementia, they were well in lots of ways. They were beyond having big adventure holidays abroad, but that didn’t mean that they could not go out and about within their community and have meals out and visit local attractions or just see family and friends.
Then lockdown happened, the messaging was that they were elderly and vulnerable and therefore it was life threateningly important that they stay inside. It was dangerous outside! So they did as required, someone got most of their food and other than medical appointments, they stayed inside.
But two and a half years and many vaccinations later, they are now afraid to leave the house and continue to stay at home. One of the couple will leave to go to the supermarket, but only if someone goes with them. They said that they need to go to the bank, as there is an issue with their account, but again, they will not go unless someone is with them and they also won’t go out if it is too cold or raining.
This couple have become housebound, but there is no longer the same reasons in place that this was a necessity in March 2020!
And when I talked to them about going outside, the anxiety levels in their voice increased significantly. They were afraid to go out, they have enough small pleasures in the house, they get daily papers and listen to the TV in the background, but they also recognise that their lives have become much smaller than they used to be.
This anxiety about being outside is normal at the beginning of lockdown and with the unlocking process, I experienced it myself, however having recognised that I had changed as a result of lockdown, then undertook a desensitisation process, so that I could try to lead as normal a life as I could and as close to as it was prior lockdown. This couple are not doing that, they have just accepted that they will no longer go out and even though they have no formal diagnosis of their anxiety, it very much appeared to me as though they were experiencing some kind of agoraphobia!
So how many other people are now frightened to leave their homes? How many elderly people are going to miss living their last few weeks / months / years in isolation and not connecting with their community because they are afraid to leave their homes? How many people will die lonely? And how many people are living lonely?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, just hope that help and support can be found for the hundreds / thousands of lonely people living amongst us. My best wishes go to them all.