Yesterday was a bath of “hope” in the eyes of Marco Inzitari (Florence, Italy, 44 years old), president of the Catalan Society of Geriatrics of the Academy of Medical Sciences of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands.
Hope “for the people who have suffered the most from the pandemic: the elderly and their caregivers,” he insists. A ray of light was already touching.
The doctor, director of the Parc Sanitari Pere Virgili in Barcelona and a member of the multidisciplinary group of covid-19 of the Ministry of Science and Innovation, assures that the pandemic has crystallized the need to improve resources and geriatric care plans.
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Why is it important to start vaccination in the elderly? Because they are the people who have a higher risk, in mortality and physical consequences. If we reduce the risk in these people, we will also reduce the burden on health services, which are the other major victims.
What impact will vaccination have on residences? The main one is in the health of the people, but also in the possibility of lowering the restrictive measures if it is possible to vaccinate a significant part of residents and workers.
This would allow recovering routine activities, mobility, physical stimulation, leaving the residence , walking, doing social and cognitive activities in a group and recovering contact abroad. This is key and it is ethically essential that they recover as soon as possible to dignify the lives of these people.
The president of the Bioethics Committee of Spain, Federico de Montalvo, says that we have a debt with our elders. Have we failed them? In part, maybe yes. Surely the system reacted, especially in the first wave, very focused on the hospital and this, which was a very likely focus of spreading and having problems, perhaps was a bit in the background.
When we say that we have failed them, we do not have to think only about what has been done during the pandemic, but also about the consideration that people had of the elderly before: job insecurity and under-financing of residences are structural problems that are coming dragging on for many years.
Because of the risk they have and the debt we have with them, it is very correct to start with the elderly.
There are elderly people who have refused to be vaccinated. What would you say to them? The first studies that have looked at adverse reactions and the safety of the vaccine in these age groups have shown very high safety and very few complications.
It is a vaccine that seems to be very safe in the elderly population and, after all that has been lived, they themselves would have to perceive the need to resume a life as normal as possible. I can understand that there is fear at first, but it has already been seen that it is safe. I would have no doubts about getting vaccinated and vaccinating my parents and grandparents.
The Minister of Health, Salvador Illa has asked for prudence and threatens a third wave. Are you afraid your guard will be lowered? It is one of the risks. There is a pandemic fatigue, a tiredness that makes it possible to relax the measures.
But we have to keep our guard up because in much of 2021 we will have to continue with the measures because there may still be infections and important consequences . We would have to live this period as a last effort to maintain and maximize measures: we can see the vaccine as the end of the tunnel, that it encourages us to make the last effort in the months to come.
The Hospital del Mar in Barcelona has published a study where it found that people with dementia had suffered a cognitive deterioration after confinement. Can these side effects of the pandemic be reversed?
Hopefully yes, but it is difficult to say now. It depends on the level of dementia: people with less advanced dementia will find it easier to go back. This impact will come out and plans must be made to recover it. Some of it will surely be able to recover if people can be accompanied and stimulated again and resume the good habits of healthy aging.
Now that vaccination has started, what remains to be done for the elderly? You have to make proactive plans to re-stimulate them, even more than you did before .
The pandemic has highlighted the need to strengthen healthy aging, the urgency of investing in it and in caring for the elderly, and that what cannot be done in person can be done virtually, despite the digital divide.
Will the geriatric approach change after the pandemic? I hope that everything that has happened with the elderly makes us understand that we are a society that is aging very quickly and this is a basic pillar of the welfare state.
Improvements need to be made in geriatric care plans, from prevention to care. There is no excuse to look the other way.