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1 in 3 older people affected by care postponed due to COVID-19

3 June 2021
More than one in every three older people (35%) have encountered the cancellation or postponement of care during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Care was cancelled by care providers twice as often as by the patients themselves.

Researchers from VU Amsterdam and Amsterdam UMC (VUmc location) conducted research amongst older people in the Netherlands with regard to medical care that has been postponed or cancelled. The postponement or cancellation of planned care was more common for older people with two or more chronic conditions (multi-morbidity) than for those without chronic conditions. Older people with multi-morbidity were more likely to encounter cancellations by their general practitioners and cancellations by medical specialists, in addition to cancelling their own hospital visits more frequently.

The study was published in the scientific journal European Geriatric Medicine. The health scientist Laura Schaap of VU Amsterdam is one of the authors.

This study used data from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA), a long-term study conducted amongst a group of older people in the Netherlands. Soon after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, 880 LASA participants between the ages of 62 and 102 years old were surveyed with regard to medical care during the pandemic. Topics in the survey included appointments with general practitioners and medical specialists. 

Care avoidance
Care avoidance was also observed: 8% of older people indicated that they had continued to suffer from medical or psychological problems without seeking help, due to the coronavirus crisis. The results also indicated that older people with more symptoms of depression were more likely to avoid care.

The findings of this study are also consistent with the image held by insurers and healthcare institutions, as well as with what has recently appeared in the media: during the pandemic, a large share of planned care has been cancelled, and fewer referrals to medical specialists have been made than has been the case in the past. The long-term implications of these findings are not yet clear. Although the postponed care can be gradually caught up, it can also have serious consequences for the functioning of older people. For example, less monitoring of diseases by medical specialists could lead to complications a more serious course of disease.

The researchers have since been working on a follow-up study in order to learn how older people have fared during the second and third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.