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Over-60s struggle with loneliness during lockdowns, research finds

Many described how as time passed, they felt less connection to the wider community and were more likely to report feelings of fear
Cate McCurry, PA

Coping with loneliness during lockdowns was the greatest challenge many over-60s dealt with, new research has found.

Many older people said the longer the period of loneliness, the harder the experience, and the more sorrow expressed at being forced to adjust to the restrictions.

Many described how as time passed, they felt less connection to the wider community and were more likely to report feelings of fear.

The findings emerged from a report compiled by researchers at the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) at Trinity College Dublin.

They released the new report which offers fresh insight into how older adults grappled with the Covid crisis during the first wave of the public health emergency.

The report, In Their Own Words: The Voices Of Older Irish People In The Covid-19 Pandemic, surveys 4,000 people aged 60 and over in Ireland, recording first-hand accounts of their experiences.

The contributions in the report reveal the impact of Covid-19 and diversity of experiences, showing the challenges faced by older people in Ireland but also recording their hopes, determination and resilience during the first wave of the pandemic.

The most common effect of social isolation was loneliness, with 20% of people saying they had increased feelings of social isolation or loneliness.

Some people also commented on their frustration at feeling neglected and disregarded by the media or public health commentators and the dislike of the word “cocooning” was frequently expressed.

Most said they had strong desires and aspirations to meet up with children and grandchildren, as well as other family and friends.

Some 20% indicated a capacity to cope or demonstrated resilience to the challenges of the pandemic, while more than half referred to hope and optimism for the future when asked what they most looked forward to once the pandemic had ended.

Many older people spoke of their desire to re-engage with activities suspended due to the pandemic, while other expressed their hope to see a more just society emerge once the pandemic had finally ended.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic was declared a global health crisis by the World Health Organisation in 2019, older adults have carried the greatest risk and burden of serious infection and ill-health from the virus.

Globally, over 95% of Covid-19 related deaths occurred among those over 70, in Ireland, 93% of Covid-19 deaths were comprised of adults over 70.

As a consequence of public health restrictions including national lockdowns, many people struggled with the abrupt disruption to everyday routines, social outlets and activities.

In a previous Tilda Covid-19 report of adults over 60, 29% reported high stress levels, while 21% reported depressive symptoms.

Many participants were deeply impacted by restrictions, reporting heightened feelings of loneliness, isolation, a lost sense of dignity and challenges ensuing from the enforced restrictions in social contact.

However, many also shared coping strategies, demonstrating remarkable resilience throughout; they speak of maintaining a positive outlook, optimism and a sense of gratitude while adapting to public health measures.

The study also reveals the adaptability of older adults, with many developing new skills and hobbies, using the events of lockdown to engage with new activities.

Dr Mark Ward, senior research fellow at Tilda and lead author, said: “Sixteen months on from the emergence of Covid-19 in Ireland, the negative consequences of the crisis and subsequent impact on the health and wellbeing of older adults is clear.

“However, thanks to the successful rollout and uptake of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, hope and optimism are now returning to the lives of older adults.

“Tilda’s report not only reveals lessons to be learned for the future but offers important insights from the unique experiences and diverse perspectives of older adults impacted by the Covid-19 emergency.”

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