Background The COVID-19 pandemic has led to dramatic changes in people’s lives globally. Older adults have been especially vulnerable to adverse effects from the pandemic including higher mortality and more severe disease complications. At the same time, social isolation, malnutrition and physical inactivity are serious concerns among older adults. The pandemic and associated restrictions may serve to exacerbate these issues, presenting increased risks to physical and mental health. The aim of this qualitative study was to explore how community-living older people in the UK experienced the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it impacted their health and well-being, and associated behaviours.
Methods Qualitative data were collected by conducting serial telephone interviews, with an interval of approximately three months. Participants were from the Hertfordshire Cohort Study, all aged over 80 years. Discussions were audio-recorded, information related to the COVID-19 pandemic was transcribed verbatim and transcripts analysed thematically. Interviews were conducted from March to October 2020.
Results Twelve participants were included in the study (7 men and 5 women). Data from a total of 35 qualitative interviews were used, comprising two or three timepoints per participant. Preliminary analysis identified five overarching themes: 1) shopping strategies and food accessibility, 2) limitations on activities and going out, 3) disruption to healthcare, 4) social and psychological repercussions, and 5) coping strategies. Initial findings highlight challenges associated with accessing shops, healthcare, and usual activities due to restrictions. Findings emphasize the issue of loneliness and isolation for some of the participants, especially those living alone, as well as fear of the virus, with restrictions leading to a loss of purpose for some, along with related effects on mental health (e.g. worry, anxiety). For some, these issues appeared to link to a reprioritisation of their behaviours (for example, exercise and diet were deprioritised). Coping strategies used by participants included finding ways to keep busy and to do physical activity safely, maintaining social contact online or by telephone, and having an optimistic or positive outlook, a ‘do what you can’ attitude.
Conclusion Analysis is ongoing and will further aim to explore how older people’s experiences and behaviours might have changed over the duration of the pandemic. The findings from this study could improve understanding of how community-living older adults could be supported to be more resilient in the face of a variety of changing circumstances that might impact their health and well-being.
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