In 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic has significantly affected the lives of older people. COTA Victoria conducted a survey, Checking in on the older person’s experience of COVID-19, to ensure their voices were heard.
The survey was carried out both online and over the phone from June–August, a period that included several lockdown stages and the introduction of mandatory face masks. COTA Victoria worked with the City of Whittlesea to analyse the results. We delivered the feedback from 1,149 participants to the Victorian Government and to councils to assist with the recovery phase and future emergency planning.
The age brackets of people surveyed were as follows:
- 44% of respondents were 65–74 years
- 33% of respondents were 75–84 years
- 10% of respondents were 55–64 years
- 10% of respondents were 85+ years.
The respondents included city-dwellers and people in regional Victoria from a diverse range of living situations. This included those who lived independently, in granny flats, in supported aged care and retirement villages.
Older people nominated the top five challenges as:
- Not being able to go to weekly activities such as social groups, churches and sport (63%)
- Not being with family (61%)
- Social isolation (50%)
- Missing important life events such as weddings, birthdays and funerals (46%)
- Not being able to get out and be active (39%).
Respondents’ anonymous comments were telling indicators of how older people were feeling during this time. Many revealed they were unsure, wary, wanting of information, or simply waiting for inspiration and a sense of safety.
One person stated: ‘I feel I have lost a sense of purpose. Also losing touch with friends and family is difficult. I wonder if this is what the rest of my life will be… I feel safe but useless and isolated.’
Participants were asked: ‘What is the single greatest concern right now?’
We grouped the open-ended answers by themes. The most common responses were:
- concern for others (18%)
- when will it end/returning to normal (13%)
- second wave of cases (12%).
Participants also said they were concerned about: missing family, financial future/economy, isolation/boredom, catching the virus, concern for others not following rules, health in general and staying safe.
As people turned their minds towards the emerging recovery phase of the pandemic, the overall responses were positive and demonstrated the resilience of older people. In fact, many of them shared helpful suggestions, including:
- advice about the need to stay connected (41%)
- advice to not panic (18%)
- reminders to stay active and exercise (14%)
- reminders to have medical checks (12%).
‘Some things are beyond our control. Do what you can and let go of the rest. Keep in touch and reach out to others’.
‘Take a deep breath, follow the rules. Importantly, speak to someone.’
COTA Victoria CEO Tina Hogarth-Clarke said the results supported COTA Victoria’s purpose for conducting the survey, to ensure the voices of older people are included in how to plan, cope and recover from disaster, emergencies and life challenges.
‘The key lesson for COTA Victoria and others is that older people should be included as a key stakeholder in the recovery process – as a community leader and as a vulnerable group,’ Ms Hogarth-Clarke said.
‘This survey has demonstrated that even if an older person is experiencing many challenges, their attitude and advice can provide positive affirmation to support the whole community.’