A phrase I have heard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is that while we may all be in the same storm, we are not in the same boat.
Since hearing from almost 5,000 Victorians to develop the Ageing well in a changing , the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the way we live and connect. Over the past six months, I’ve been on a listening tour talking to senior Victorians virtually and in person about their experiences.
What I’ve heard and learnt from senior Victorians is that the impacts of COVID-19 are as diverse as we all are; there have certainly been some challenging aspects, and positive opportunities have arisen as well.
I have enjoyed the opportunity to venture out and speak to people face-to-face again, when it has been safe to do so, and am grateful to the many people and organisations who generously and openly shared their perspectives in online forums. Over a two-part blog series, I will share key insights from senior Victorians.
Maintaining connections with family, friends and society
One of the most significant challenges for many people has been maintaining contact with friends, family and loved ones during the pandemic. Restrictions on visitors to homes and aged care facilities have had a profound social and emotional impact on many older adults, particularly those who live alone.
Measures like the single make a welcome difference, but for many people the pandemic has been a long, lonely and isolating time. Some of the older adults I spoke to are finding it hard to re-emerge after lockdowns; others feel that the isolation and loneliness they experienced before the pandemic has been magnified. Older adults have also missed important celebrations, family events and milestones, and the pandemic has intensified the stress and grief of losing a loved one. The loss of human touch, which has previously been identified as an issue for older people, has also been exacerbated.
However, senior Victorians are incredibly resilient and resourceful. During the pandemic, senior Victorians have connected with their families and friends in new ways by catching up for walks or in parks, chatting on the phone or going online.
Some of the older adults I spoke to reported feeling more engaged in their neighbourhood and community. Strangers started talking to each other, people said “hello” on walks, and neighbours and groups reached out to check on one another in-person or over the phone. For many people I spoke to, this was something that would never have happened before the pandemic. “I know the names of most of the neighbourhood dogs now because everyone was out walking and communicating,” one person shared.
Feeling visible and valued
Some older adults I spoke to felt more visible among their community and in society during the pandemic. As one person shared, “COVID-19 meant that older people were suddenly considered important.”
“All of a sudden I had younger relatives phoning me up asking if I am OK, do I need any shopping done,” another person said.
However, older adults continue to face and challenge outdated assumptions related to their age. “When people say you aren’t old, I say yes I am; being old doesn’t mean I can’t do all of these things,” one person reflected. Ageist attitudes and messages during the pandemic, particularly sweeping descriptions or perceptions of the ‘vulnerability’ of older adults, were also raised as a concern.
Having purpose and meaning in life
Engagement in community groups, sport and volunteering has been heavily impacted by the pandemic. There have been numerous times when social and interest groups have not been able to meet face-to-face, and while some people have been able to move to online models, others have needed to wait for activities to return. There are concerns some older people won’t return to volunteering activities, which may have a significant impact for individuals as well as the communities they support.
The older adults I spoke to, including many who are involved in coordinating community groups, shared concerns about people not returning to their previous activities. As one person reflected, “once you slowed down, it was really hard to get started again.”
There is a risk that some older people may not return to their pre-pandemic activities which increases the risk of isolation and loneliness. Some older adults are afraid to re-engage in activities from fear of contracting COVID-19, while others are finding it difficult to manage constant changes and uncertainty. “The safe thing is to do nothing. Not a good outcome. Need to find ways to kick start ourselves. Level of anxiety can peak and trough based on COVID situation,” another person shared.
Stay tuned for part two in my blog series.
Coronavirus.vic.gov.au – Information for older people and
Older Persons Advocacy Network – COVID-19 inforamtion and
Seniors Online – Get involved in activities and your local community
Reviewed 06 January 2023