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Link to original content: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/mind/help-caught-midlife-coronavirus-panic/
My coronavirus crisis has me worried sick – so how susceptible are midlifers like me?

My coronavirus crisis has me worried sick – so how susceptible are midlifers like me?

Coronavirus used to be a distant disease. Now, its becoming all too real for those in their middle years, as new statistics show

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'I’ve always been the kind of person to view the worst-case scenario as the most likely outcome.' Gavin Newsham has found himself panicking about the coronavirus 
'I’ve always been the kind of person to view the worst-case scenario as the most likely outcome.' Gavin Newsham has found himself panicking about the coronavirus 

It’s the people with friends I feel sorry for. For over a decade I’ve worked from home, socially distancing myself from anyone and everyone, and self-isolating long before it became fashionable or, as it is now, a Government-decreed necessity.

But things are different. Today, housebound with my wife, three children, a dog and a hyperactive cat, I’ve come to realise just how serious the current situation has become for midlifers like me.

And I’m scared.

It wasn’t like this a few weeks ago. Back then, I was shrugging my shoulders along with everybody else about this distant disease (“Have you heard that nobody’s buying Corona beer any more?”). And then one man, the so-called ‘super-spreader’, returned from his holidays to my hometown of Brighton, laden down with a giant Toblerone and a hefty case of coronavirus, and suddenly there were TV crews outside the medical centre not half a mile from my house. Suddenly, the distant disease was on my doorstep.

Since then, my stress levels have soared through the stratosphere, not least because I’ve always been the kind of person to view the worst-case scenario as the most likely outcome. In fact, I’m an insurance broker’s dream. Yes, this is a whole new world of worry – and it’s getting worse.

A week or so ago, I didn’t know anybody who had contracted coronavirus, and nor did anyone else in my circle. Now, there are a handful of Covid-19 victims and they’re increasingly close to home.

There was my wife’s colleague whose mother passed away a few days ago; a neighbour whose friend is fighting for their life in hospital in London, and a friend whose old school pal died from the virus in her 50s. I turned 50 in November. Suddenly, it’s become all too real.

My dad also died in mid-February. He had been struggling with a bad cough and a chest infection, and had been admitted to hospital. It later transpired that he had pneumonia and he spent two weeks in an induced coma and on a ventilator before passing away.

I’ve no idea if they tested him for coronavirus but all the symptoms were clearly there. The only consolation was that we were, at least, able to say goodbye and give him a good send off – something that thousands of people won’t be able to do in the coming weeks and months.

It’s a worrying situation, compounded by science. The now notorious Imperial College London study analysed 70,000 cases of Covid-19, mostly in China, and showed that while just four per cent of people in their 40s will be hospitalised, with 0.16 per cent dying, the number needing hospital treatment in their 50s doubles to eight per cent, with 0.59 per cent passing away.

Plot their data on a graph, as we have below, and you can see that the line starts to really kick up just when you reach my age.

“Our analysis very clearly shows that atage 50 and over, hospitalisation is much more likely than in those under 50, and a greater proportion of cases are likely to be fatal,” said the study’s co-author, Professor Azra Ghani.

They’re sobering statistics for my generation.

Professor Arne Akbar, president of the British society for immunology and a professor at UCL, says: “As we get older, so do our immune systems, which results in them becoming slower and less effective at fighting off infections.

“This means that the over 50s are likely to experience more serious symptoms as a result of this infection.”  

Sunil Sharma, a Consultant in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology in Brighton, agrees. “It’s not so much that the over-50s are more susceptible to contracting coronavirus than someone in their 40s,” he adds, “but that the risk of severe disease if they do get it, is higher.”

An increasing risk of Covid complications, money, the wholesale lack of loo roll, home educating my kids – it’s enough to drive a middle-aged man to drink.

Well, this middle-aged man anyway. This week, it was revealed that Britons spent 22 per cent more on alcohol in March 2020 than they did in the same month in 2019, and since the lockdown kicked in I definitely seem to be drinking more.

I don’t really know why. After all, I still have to work, as does my wife, and while it can be a challenge living with three teenagers all smothering the WiFi and scuppering my Zoom calls, I’m sure we have it better than many people at the moment.

Maybe it’s my default coping mechanism, but there are more efficacious methods.

“These are stressful times but it’s important to remember that people are more resilient than they think and often underestimate how well they may be able to cope with stress,” says Sunil Sharma.

“Limit the time spent on watching the news, make sure you get adequate sleep, don’t use alcohol as an anxiolytic [a drug to reduce anxiety], get enough exercise (even if just in the house or garden), eat healthily and practice meditation or mindfulness. Basically, look after yourself so that you are in a better position to look after those that may need your help.”

It’s a view reinforced by leading psychologist Jamil Qureshi. “The key to dealing with anxiety is perspective,” he says. “In times of uncertainty, like now, it’s easy to allow our imagination to cause even more stress and angst.

“Understanding what we can control and being aware of any level of certainty and consistency is important. Let’s celebrate the things that haven’t changed, and make them a key component of maintaining normality.”

What passes for normality these days, however, is another question entirely and quite when we’ll return to it – whatever it is – is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, I’ll just have to hunker down at home and somehow try to find a way to park the panic that doesn’t involve a corkscrew.

Besides, at my age, what choice have I got?

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