In the first quarter of 2021, researchers at The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), Trinity College Dublin, released a wide-ranging and thorough report examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of older adults. With over a decade of longitudinal research contained within the TILDA dataset on over 8,000 older adults, TILDA was uniquely positioned to examine the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic affected older adults living in Ireland. The report entitled Altered Lives in a Time of Crisis: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Lives of Older Adults in Ireland is the most detailed of its kind yet, surveying over 4,000 of its existing TILDA participants between July and November of 2020.
Since the crisis first emerged, it is widely reported that older adults were some of the most disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic across the world, and now continue to face the greatest risk of susceptibility to severity of symptoms, and in some cases, mortality, when infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In light of this, TILDA’s COVID-19 report covers a wide range of aspects experienced by adults aged 60 years and over during the first few months of the pandemic.
Researchers examine how changes to daily activities, social interactions, physical activity, and other behaviours have affected the overall health and wellbeing of older adults, as a consequence of public health measures put in place to curtail the spread of infection. The report also documents the extent of exposure to COVID-19 among participants and their families and friends during the early months of the crisis and the level of concern about SARS-CoV-2 infection among this at risk group.
KEY FINDINGS FROM THE TILDA REPORT
- Impact of Pandemic: Between July and November 2020, 1 in 20 (5%) adults aged 60 and over had lost a family member or friend due to COVID-19 infection.
- Impact of Pandemic: Those most concerned about the pandemic live alone; are aged 70 and over (54%), are female (52%); are educated to primary level (56%), and live in rural areas (51%).
- Physical Activity: Almost one quarter (22%) of older adults in Ireland did not meet minimum recommended levels of physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, 27% report that they walk more often than they did prior to the pandemic, 17% also exercise more often at home than they did previously.
- Loneliness:30% of older adults feel lonely at least some of the time. Increased isolation has resulted in an increase in loneliness across the population.
- Loneliness: Loneliness is associated with poorer overall quality of life and physical and mental health. Increased loneliness and social isolation due to COVID-19 restrictions have had a negative effect on the wellbeing of the population.
- Depression: 21% of adults aged 60+ report potentially clinically meaningful levels of depressive symptoms. Worryingly, this is double the prevalence of depression seen before the pandemic.
- Stress: 29% report high stress levels and 11% have moderate-to-severe anxiety levels. This represents a significant increase from before the pandemic.
- Delayed Medical Care: Almost one third (30%) of adults aged 60 and over delayed or did not get medical care they needed. 43% of participants delayed dental care, and 31% postponed an appointment with a GP. This will likely have serious consequences for the health of older adults, now and in the future.
- Caring: 15% of those aged 60 and older report that they cared for someone during the pandemic. This is more than double the proportion who reported caring in 2018 (6%). Most of this care is provided to people’s spouses.
- Compliance: There was a high level of compliance with public health advice in this group with 80% of the over-60s reporting adherence to advice on social distancing measures and engaging in protective behaviours to prevent the spread of the virus.