COVID-19: Opportunities for interdisciplinary research to improve care for older people in Sweden

Wossenseged Jemberie

As of November 11th, 2020 the total number of people with confirmed COVID-19 case in Sweden is 166,707 and increasing. COVID-19 specific mortality is also one of the highest in the world at about 601 deaths/1M population. Out of the 6082 deaths, 5421 were among people aged 70 and over.  These figures contrast with the measures taken by the Swedish  government targeting older persons aged 70+ years and social services for older persons (LTCF visitation, special accommodations, etc.).  Now there is increased call from the public and the government to investigate decision making processes.

In this recently published article, we discuss some of the issues that have arisen during the pandemic. These include:

  • Perfect adherence to isolation measures were not feasible as more than 70% of persons aged 65+ years use home care services. Even before the pandemic, there were numerous care transitions and contact with different service providers.
  • Working conditions for service providers were challenging and lacked adequate resources and personal protective equipment due to cuts in care funding.
  • Staff did not have access to appropriate training in hygiene routines or infection prevention and control measures.
  • Policy makers did not partner with older persons or their advocates when making decisions even if the measures disproportionately impacted older persons.

Given these shortcomings, we highlight the need for interdisciplinary collaboration to improve health and social care services for older persons in Sweden. We also emphasize the importance of partnership between researchers, policy makers and older persons in knowledge and policy coproduction, and priority setting. We underline that evaluation of policies and practices during the pandemic should include the voice and lived experience of older persons. The section below states what we believe needs to be done to improve and develop responsive and resilient health and social care services.

 Key recommendations:

Emerging from the pandemic, researchers and policy makers should focus on:

  • Improving the working conditions of social service workers and training staff on infection/disaster management.
  • Implementation and routine evaluation of user-informed feedback loops to ensure responsive and agile care practices.
  • Designing age friendly digital platforms for connectedness.
  • Establishing partnerships with older persons and their advocates for knowledge coproduction and policy design. Nothing about us without us!
  • Streamlining information sharing between health and social services; aiming towards provision of effective and integrated public health care for older persons.


Full citation:

Baxter R, Jemberie WB, Li X, et al. COVID-19: Opportunities for interdisciplinary research to improve care for older people in Sweden. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. November 2020. doi:10.1177/1403494820969544

About the author:

Wossenseged Jemberie is a doctoral affiliates of the Swedish National Graduate School for Competitive Science on Ageing and Health (SWEAH). SWEAH’s mission is to support interdisciplinary research to improve quality of life and well-being for the ageing population. SWEAH is funded by the Swedish Research Council and aims to promote creative cooperation among Swedish higher education institutions and cross-disciplinary collaboration among emerging ageing and health researchers.

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