Older people’s lives and coronavirus

Seniors at home using smart phone

Credit: blackCAT / Getty Images

Older people are more at risk of severe or fatal COVID-19, but the pandemic has affected more than their physical health.

How has their risk level affected how they have coped during lockdown and since restrictions have been lifted? What effect will the pandemic have on their future?

Will older people feel safe without COVID restrictions?

Dr Elaine Douglas, a lecturer in global ageing from the University of Stirling, wants to find out. She is leading an 18-month survey of people aged 50 and over in Scotland.

The project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and builds on the Healthy Ageing in Scotland study.

The survey is establishing how the pandemic influences older people’s decisions to socialise, attend medical appointments or get vaccinated.

Douglas said:

COVID-19 has affected the way in which people connect, look after their health, work and spend. However, little is known about the role that COVID-19 fear plays in how people go about their everyday lives, particularly among older people, who are arguably most vulnerable to poor outcomes.

Our research will look at how people re-engage with society over the year ahead and provide insights for policy and public health messages.

Douglas hopes the survey will provide insight that can be used to support people back into everyday activities, which are significant for individual wellbeing, but also our economic recovery.

Treasuring the skills of over 50s

A project funded by UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Healthy Ageing Challenge has helped local communities weather the economic storm caused by COVID-19.

Local Treasures’ customers in the south of England use the company for workers that can help with chores like:

  • DIY
  • cooking
  • shopping
  • gardening.

All of the workers are aged 50 or over.

Older people’s experience

The company was the brainchild of Sarah Heyworth.

Sarah said:

I was inspired to set up Local Treasures after moving house and realising that my father had a host of DIY skills that I could use.

Unfortunately, he lived miles away. But it sparked an idea: how to embrace this wealth of untapped experience among the older community to plug skills gaps and provide local communities with useful services.

Adapting for the pandemic

Sarah noticed that the pandemic didn’t affect all parts of the country equally. Some towns were particularly hard hit in terms of economic impact. She also saw the impact on over 50s.

She updated Local Treasures’ technology so they could expand and reach more customers and potential workers. They developed an app using machine learning technology. The idea was that older people could use it both ways:

  • to buy services
  • to respond to requests for work.

Using sophisticated AI-based technology, the app uses keywords, such as ‘leaking tap’ or ‘fixing cupboards’, to create one-to-one profile matches.

Sarah said:

There are other recruitment services out there but none of them focus on older people in the way we do or offer a single match.

We can also use this technology to track customer numbers, jobs taken on and money earned.

We are now working with Southampton University to incorporate a series of questions on issues like mental health, welfare and spending habits. The data this creates will help build a more detailed picture.

COVID-19 affects retirement plans

By September 2020, one in eight older workers (13%) had already changed their planned retirement age as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

A later retirement became the plan for around 8%, most commonly those with a pension fund that has fallen in value, and those working from home.

Meanwhile, 5% planned to retire earlier than planned. This is more common among richer households and those on furlough.

The findings were published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). It used data from the ESRC-funded ELSA COVID-19 study for the research.

The financial fallout for over 50s

Heidi Karjalainen, a Research Economist at IFS, said:

The personal finances of many older adults are being hit by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. While many have wealth to help them smooth income shocks, this is by no means true of all.

Older adults are also more exposed to financial hits to their pension savings, because being closer to retirement there is less time for fund values to recover before they might want to start drawing on their wealth.

Last updated: 24 September 2021

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