Older adults’ physical and mental health are a huge challenge in the framework of the pandemic.
In March 2020, when the pandemic began, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), through Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, already recognized older adults not only “face a disproportionate risk of death but they are further threatened by COVID-19 due to their care support needs or by living in high-risk environments such as institutions” (OHCHR, 2020).
In addition to the most visible effects the pandemic had on older adults, such as high mortality rates and the impact on mental health, consequences on physical health due to the disease itself and the conditions of confinement, are also worthy of mention. Indeed, according to Mayte Vázquez, psychologist and member of the Spanish Association of Psycho-gerontology (AEPG by its Spanish acronym):
Older adults’ double confinement in residences (isolated from the outside and inside their rooms without access to common areas) and, especially of those with dementia, has many immediate negative consequences such as physical inactivity or disabilities. These may also cause sleep disorders, insomnia and daytime sleepiness, increased cognitive impairment due to the lack of cognitive stimulation activities such as workshops, gatherings, or group therapies, and may provoke emotional and mood swings, increasing depression symptoms due to reduced social contact and loneliness (Vázquez, M. 2021).
Regarding older adults’ well-being and considering previously mentioned challenges, it is necessary to mitigate these impacts through the promotion of physical activity, adapted to the context of the pandemic. This subject was addressed by Colombia and Peru, where institutions dedicated to the promotion of sports (Peruvian Sports Institute – IPD by its Spanish acronym – and the Ministry of Sports of Colombia) joined to share best practices for the promotion of healthy habits in times of COVID-19 with emphasis on older adults (Plataforma digital única del Estado Peruano, 2020).
According to these countries, this Bilateral South-South Cooperation action contributed to improve the competencies of professionals who graduated from the different programs carried out by the Peruvian National Directorate of Training and Sport Technique, of officials of the Integral Centers for Older Adults and of IPD staff.
This action consisted in a series of conferences on “Older adults: physical activity in times of COVID-19”, which were available on institutional online platforms. Knowledge and experiences were exchanged on specific topics such as: older adults, aging and old age; the benefits of recreation; National Recreation Strategy for and with older adults; Programa Nuevo Comienzo “Another reason to live”; home games and interactive evaluation games.
Through the implementation of this action, Colombia and Peru enabled Ibero-American cooperation and their own sports agendas to contribute to the achievement of SDG 3 Good health and well-being. In addition, this is an example of how South-South Cooperation could adapt to a new context and could continue its implementation despite a global pandemic that hindered face-to-face exchanges in Ibero-American countries.