Coronavirus and the over-70s: “I’m afraid. The hardest part is psychological I think”

Elderly people in Finland are being told they should stay socially distant to reduce the risk of catching coronavirus, even as other restrictions on society are being eased.

File picture of elderly person wearing face mask / Credit: iStock

Older people in Finland, faced with continued restrictions on social contact, need more instructions on how to safeguard their physical and mental health in the coming months.

That’s the message from former minister and diplomat Ole Norrback, Chairman of the Swedish Pensioners’ Association SPF.

“All the restrictions have of course been a sign of goodwill. The decision-makers have decided to protect the older people and we have reason to be thankful for that. On the other hand the isolation cannot last too long because people are not ready to be isolated for an endless period.”

While the government has announced a ‘hybrid timetable’ for easing other coronavirus-related restrictions around schooling, sports and hobby activities, restaurants and bars, the advice for anyone over 70 is to remain physically distant from other people.

“Finnish people are used to following legislation and recommendations, sometimes too much. But in this case experts in healthcare should now offer us more concrete instructions, how we should behave, to protect their health, their mental health, and to keep their physical forces in good shape” Norrback tells News Now Finland.

Norrback, who is himself 79 years old, says he has been living an active life during the coronavirus pandemic, but his social contact is very limited.

“I am using my phone and calling people, using my computer and sending emails, but that is not the same as meeting people. Most of us who are over 70 are in good shape, and we are active in moderation. But the sudden stop of activities, the reason was good but the outcome can be bad” he explains.

There’s an estimated 800,000 older people aged between 70 and 110 in Finland, and while overall numbers of coronavirus fatalities in Finland have remained relatively low – in particular compared to neighbouring sweden with more than 3200 deaths – older people have been hit particularly hard.

File picture inside elderly care home bedroom / Credit: iStock

Everyday life for older Finns

According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL, almost 200 people aged over 70 have died from coronavirus-related complications so far, with elderly care homes in Helsinki and Eastern Finland seeing viral clusters and fatalities.

“I’m afraid. The hardest part is psychological I think. I feel imprisoned to some extent. I don’t have my own freedom to do anything plus a certain amount of fear for the virus itself” says Ninni Langenskjöld, who lives in an old folk’s home in Espoo.

Ninni, who celebrates her 80th birthday this year, says she’s got more freedom than many pensioners and tries to get out every day for a socially-distanced walk with a friend. However many aspects of her daily life have changed since the coronavirus pandemic began.

“My daughter-in-law is a doctor of medicine so she says go out, you must go out as much as possible. So we do what she says” explains Ninni, who has lived in the elderly home for the last decade.

“As long was we obey these rules that they say two meters, not going too close and not visiting the shops, and that’s what I’ve been avoiding very much, but it is bothering me” she tells News Now Finland.

Other changes at home include residents having to sit at separate tables, with staff serving the meals.

“You just point at what you want, you can’t take the food yourself” she adds.

So far Ninni hasn’t been using too much technology to keep in touch with her two children and four grandchildren, she’s relying on her mobile phone instead.

“I only communicate by telephone. Not Skype or Whatsapp. I’m not very good with it” she concedes.