Recent research by COTA NSW has revealed that many older people were resilient in the face of reduced social activity during COVID-19 restrictions, and were inventive in finding new ways to address their needs.
The broad-ranging survey of people aged over 50 looked at how the restrictions affected older people. It revealed that there has been a significant increase in the use of technology to reduce isolation and loneliness.
25% of respondents said their level of skill with technology had increased during the pandemic. There was a marked increase in the use of video calls and social media.
One respondent reported that “My wife started a Facebook group with the other ladies from her bowling club, which probably has an average age of around 74. She helped them to learn new technology and buy computers.”
Older people appreciated the community projects and informal arrangements for checking in to see they were okay. They also enjoyed the opportunity to slow down, actively enjoy nature, exercise more and pursue hobbies. Many said that they became better at living in the moment and “being kind to yourself and others”.
The main things that older people missed were contact with immediate family and friends. This was particularly the case for the older age groups. People were also concerned about shopping and getting essential supplies and feeling isolated.
The sudden ceasing of volunteering activities had a significant impact, with 60% of respondents undertaking some form of volunteering prior to the pandemic. Volunteering provides connection, meaning and purpose for individuals, as well as being critical for the operation of the non-profit sector.
Overall, about 20% of respondents said they felt anxious, depressed, isolated and/or lonely last year. These were more likely to be people with a disability and/or chronic disease and their carers, who experienced decreased social interaction with service providers and social groups and also needed to limit their activities more than others to protect their own health.
In fact, people in the 50-59 group were much more likely to identify negative emotions than older age groups, possibly due to increased financial, family and work responsibilities and the fear of losing their job. They may also have been more affected by social restrictions, whereas older groups have had time to adjust to retirement and a smaller social circle.
Unemployed older people and those receiving JobKeeper or Jobseeker also experienced more negative emotions. Around 6% of respondents had lost their jobs because of COVID-19, with the highest proportion in the 50-59 age group.