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Lockdown loneliness the biggest hurdle for many people aged over 60

Original article featured in The Times UK and Ireland edition. Link to article is here.

Coping with loneliness during the lockdowns was the greatest challenge for many people over the age of 60, research has found.

Many older people 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. The research offers an insight into how older adults grappled with the Covid-19 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, surveyed 4,000 people aged over 60 in Ireland, recording first-hand accounts of their experiences.

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

The most common effect of social isolation was loneliness, with 20 per cent 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 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. 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 after the pandemic.

Some 20 per cent 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 ends.

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, more than 95 per cent of Covid-19 related deaths occurred among people over the age of 70. In Ireland, 93 per cent of 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. 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 spoke 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 the impact of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of older adults was clear, but that the vaccination programme offered hope. “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,” he said.

The report, In Their Own Words: The Voices of Older Irish People in the Covid-19 Pandemic, has been published by The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) is available to view here.