Are the elderly lonely in COVID-19 isolation? A look beyond the statistics

The media has made the elderly seem like a lonely bunch during COVID-19, but is that really the case? (Image source: American Psychological Association)

By Lauren Wisgard | @LaurenWisgard

In an unprecedented time of compulsory self-isolation, many media reports are promoting the view that the elderly in our community are at high risk of loneliness and depression.

“It really hasn’t affected me all that much,” is what Victor Harbor resident Isabelle Avery, 87, said when asked about self-isolation.

According to the ABC, one in five Australians over the age of 75 will experience loneliness during this pandemic, but elderly South Australians interviewed for this article were surprisingly upbeat, indicating the statistics may not show the everyday reality.

Ms Avery said that of course she misses her family and usual social activities, but that life hasn’t changed much because of COVID-19.

“I can’t really say I’m in isolation … I still go for my shopping, I still go to the chemist and the doctors, and I walk along the beach front,” Ms Avery said.

“I’m not hard up. I’ve got a pension and so I’m sheltered from it all. I think younger people are taking the brunt of it.”

The sacrifice of staying home is not as difficult for people her age, Ms Avery said, and her concern is for people who need to work and earn money.

“I think people must be going hungry through this, some people aren’t getting any money at all from the government, how on earth do they manage? It does worry me, the unfairness of it all.”

Ms Avery also said that this virus has not made her depressed, and she was grateful for her health during this period.

“I’m not really afraid of death, at my age you expect it. I don’t want to live too long until I’m not capable to look after myself,” she said.

Aside from looking forward to seeing her loved ones again, Ms Avery said she was looking forward to a holiday when normality resumes.

“I’d like to go on a cruise again, but I can’t see myself really trusting it!”

Another Victor Harbor resident, Betty Viney, 83, said despite being in lockdown for over eight weeks now, she was lucky to be at home with a garden.

“I am lucky, it’s only minor things and I’m in a comfortable house with a nice garden and a lovely little cat to keep me company,” Ms Viney said.

She said the simple things are what she has missed the most, and she was looking forward to returning to her social life.

“I can’t go to my over 50s club, I can’t go swimming and I can’t go out for lunch with friends,” Ms Viney said.

“It’s a nice thing to go to the pictures and things like that but now I’ve discovered Youtube … they’ve got some wonderful concerts on there.”

It’s not only those at home finding isolation okay; Sandy Comley, the daughter of 87-year-old nursing home resident Mavis Barrett, said her mother’s dementia has kept her completely unaware of the virus.

“If she’s in a nice routine it’s easier for her; she doesn’t get upset, she doesn’t get stressed out, so [the nursing home] have tried to keep her to a strict routine.”

“I don’t know whether other people are feeling it, probably not because unfortunately a lot of people don’t go visit their parents in nursing homes anyway,” Ms Comley said.

The world slowing down has also had its positives according to Ms Avery, and she’s noticed people are being kinder to each other.

“I think before the virus you feel a little bit invisible in shops and stuff like that, but when people are extra kind you do notice it,” Ms Avery said.

“I’ve noticed when I’m walking along the beach everybody is much more friendly and I think we could do with a lot more of that.”

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