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COVID-19: Older Canadians Report Physical Decline

Even a mild case of COVID-19 can lead to a higher likelihood of decreased mobility and physical function for adults aged 50 and older, according to a new national study, highlighting how hundreds of thousands people may need physical rehabilitation as a result of this pandemic. .

The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open on Wednesday, looked at mobility data for more than 24,000 older Canadians across the country in 2020.

And there was a marked difference between those who contracted COVID-19 and those who did not, Marla Beauchamp, assistant professor at McMaster University and lead author of the study, told CTVNews.ca.

“People with COVID-19 were about twice as likely to have worsened mobility or physical function because of their COVID-19,” said Beauchamp, who also holds a chair of Canada’s research on mobility, aging and chronic disease. “And that was beyond what we saw in the background population.”

This ranged from difficulty doing household activities, walking up and down stairs, or even just getting up from a chair.

And 94% of those who had COVID-19 in the study did not have a severe case – only seven people said they had been hospitalized at any time due to the virus.

“Our data shows that in people with mild to moderate COVID-19, there is still a risk of mobility issues, physical function issues that persist after being diagnosed with COVID-19,” Beauchamp said. “And so, a substantial proportion of people might actually need some kind of support to regain their […] levels of physical functioning they were at before contracting COVID-19. “

There may be a feeling that mild cases of COVID-19 are not to be feared. But this research indicates that for some, it may have lasting effects.

“If about 18% of people with COVID-19 in our study had an increasing ability to move around their homes, I mean it’s pretty bad when people can’t even do their daily activities,” he said. said Beauchamp. .

Previous studies have largely focused on people with severe cases of COVID-19 and the elderly living in collective settings such as long-term care, she said, while this study looked at people older people living independently in their communities.

The researchers used data from the COVID-19 study from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), which initially recruited participants aged 45 to 85 in 2011-2015 to form a cohort they could follow in order to study the various effects of aging. In April 2020, the CLSA launched a specific investigation of COVID-19 to study its effects on this population, collecting data over a period of nine months. This data is what researchers in Wednesday’s study accessed to measure whether people with COVID-19 saw a decline in mobility and physical activity that exceeded what we naturally expected with the aging.

More than 24,000 people participated in the CLSA COVID-19 investigation. Of this group, 2,748 participants had confirmed or probable or suspected COVID-19, the overwhelming majority of whom had mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 that did not require hospitalization.

The survey asked participants to report if they had a case of COVID-19, with a suspected case being someone who has had close contact with someone with COVID-19 and exhibited symptoms, but did not have not received test to confirm.

Beauchamp said they anticipated the virus would impact the mobility of those who contracted it, which is why they sought to study it in the first place.

“What we probably weren’t expecting was the breadth of it and the fact that it was sort of consistent across the different areas of mobility we looked at,” she said. . “Especially since our sample was mostly non-hospitalized. “

The pandemic has created challenges for everyone’s general mobility, she said, with a quarter of all participants reporting that their physical function has declined. But those with COVID-19 saw a larger drop in all the specific functions the survey asked about.

“What we showed was that there was a higher proportion of people who had difficulty after being diagnosed with COVID than the general onset of difficulty that we would see with aging anyway and because of public health restrictions and things like that, ”Beauchamp said.

One question asked about participants’ ability to walk 2-3 blocks, and 19% of those who had COVID-19 reported increased difficulty, compared with 10% of those who did not, she said. Explain.

The study suggests that quarantining in an attempt to contain the virus is something that may contribute to reduced mobility. Beauchamp clarified that while this is something that could add to the problem, it is not something we should seek to change, just a reality that we must take into account.

“These are very necessary requirements from a public health point of view to control the spread of the virus,” she said. “[But] especially for an elderly person, if you spend a lot of time in isolation and don’t move a lot, you can become weak quite quickly, which we already know from other work.

If a person is going through their 40s and feeling well enough to move around, it’s something that could help maintain mobility, she said.

“It could be, for example, getting up and down from a chair a few times, going up and down stairs, if you can do it safely, there are some things you can do inside your house just to make sure you’re ‘exercising and moving your muscles a bit,’ she said.

She added that it was a bit worse for those who were older and had chronic illnesses or had lower income, giving a clue where to start in terms of planning how to target rehabilitation efforts.

“But these factors in themselves do not explain everything,” she said. “We still don’t know why some people have these kinds of persistent deficits and others don’t.”

This is something that needs to be further researched in order to build the supports that will be needed to help people recover from these lingering effects of the pandemic, she said.

“We definitely don’t have the resources across Canada,” she said. “We barely have enough rehabilitation services, for example, for existing patients with chronic lung disease. So it’s definitely a shortage. “

As more research begins to emerge on the lengthy COVID and the virus’s lingering impacts, there must be more that focuses on the actual effects on the quality of life of the patients involved, she suggested. .

“I think we kind of have to get past the persistence of symptoms,” she said. “And this study is an example of that, because we know that the ability of people to move and get to the places they like is a really critical aspect of health.

“There is a significant proportion of people who may need rehabilitation or some form of support to return to their pre-existing levels of functioning. So we need to look at more ways to do it and we need to have more services available for this type of patient. “