Preserve physical strength amid reduced outings

There are concerns about elderly people’s physical strength declining amid a prolonged lifestyle in which they refrain from going out due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. It is best for them to actively exercise in an effort to maintain their health.

At the peak of the sixth wave of infections this winter, there were more than 100,000 new cases of infection a day, with all the prefectures including Tokyo rewriting record highs. Many senior citizens are believed to have refrained from going out to avoid getting infected.

When elderly people continue not to go out, even previously healthy people are at risk of “pandemic frailty,” or becoming weak to the point of almost needing nursing care. In some cases, mental and physical functions deteriorate quickly. The situation requires close attention.

The Japan Geriatrics Society notes that people who lose weight or become easily fatigued may be in a state of pandemic frailty. Exercising, eating proper meals and participating in social activities are considered three keys to preventing this condition, and there are many things that people can do on their own.

First, it is important to reduce the time spent sitting. A certain level of muscle strength can be maintained just by doing household chores and exercises every day at home. It is hoped that elderly people will consciously make efforts to become more physically active, such as by taking a walk or going shopping.

It is desirable to eat at set times and have three meals a day with a good balance of staple foods, main dishes and side dishes. In particular, it is important to eat protein-rich foods such as meat and fish to develop muscles.

Senior citizens feel depressed when they lose their social connections, and their mental health and physical health tend to deteriorate. Actions such as talking with friends can also be effective in maintaining the ability to chew. Families and friends in the community should actively call on elderly people living alone.

Some local governments are lending residents tablet computers so that they can participate in calisthenics classes and social events online. Normally, in-person interaction is preferable, but in regions where the spread of infections has yet to be contained, online activities can be an option.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, about 400,000 people age 70 or older in the nation have contracted the coronavirus since January. This means the figure from just four months greatly exceeded the entire number of previous infections.

Muscle strength decreases rapidly when people remain bedridden in the hospital. Many elderly people are unable to return to their daily lives even if they recover from COVID-19. To prevent such situations, it is important for local governments to provide long-term support.

If elderly people are hospitalized, providing rehabilitation by physical therapists and other specialists from the early stage of the onset of symptoms has proved to be effective in many cases in preventing physical deterioration at the time of discharge.

The government must urgently create a system that enables the elderly to receive high-level rehabilitation at any hospital nationwide.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 2, 2022)