People aged 70 and over have been singled out as the group most vulnerable to being impacted by COVID-19. In Aotearoa NZ there are more than half a million people in this age group, meaning this policy affects a large proportion of New Zealanders and their families, whānau and friends. There are concerns that COVID-19 will exacerbate the already high rates of loneliness and social isolation older people experience by limiting usual social connection and result in a ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 psychological and physical harms.
However, what has struck us in the coverage to date of the impact of Covid-19 on older people is that we are not hearing their voices. People over 70 have tended to be lumped together and collectively characterised as passive and vulnerable. This not only conflates a culturally, ethnically, socio-economically and geographically diverse segment of the population, but also ignores their agency and ability to promote and sustain social connections. Our worry is that it may contribute towards older people feeling social excluded and lead others to question their worthiness to receive national support and good-will.
Thanks to funding from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation we are partnering with Age Concern NZ to address this critical evidence gap. We will build on our Ageing Well study which explored the experiences of 436 ethnically-diverse older New Zealanders regarding social isolation and loneliness. Our team includes Merryn, Lisa, Tessa Morgan (who we are every excited is rejoining us from the UK!), Janine, Tess, Tatiana Tavares from AUT, and Louise Rees from Age Concern NZ.
Aim: Our overall aim is to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon people aged >70 years across all cultural groups and to feed their experiences and perspectives into government, NGO and community public health responses.
We will conduct the study in four phases.
Phase 1: We will conduct in-depth telephone interviews with 30 people (5 Māori, 5 Pacific, and 5 Chinese/Korean) who participated in our Ageing Well project and self identified as lonely and/or isolated. Given the rapidly changing situation, we will conduct two interviews with each participant approximately one month apart.
Phase 2: We will invite members of the general public aged >70 to send us letters and /or photos to share their experiences of and views about Covid-19 and the lockdown. This will enable us to construct an archive of letters akin to that compiled during NZ’s worst public health epidemic – the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic.
Phase 3: In collaboration with the national Age Concern office we will send a short online service provider survey to explore the way NGOs have provided Covid-19 support to older people.
Phase 4: To contextualise our project, we will conduct a media analysis of the portrayal of older New Zealanders in light of the COVID-19 crisis. This will allows us to interrogate dominant discourses about, and the potential stigmatisation of, older adults. We will compare these with our findings to inform guidelines for media, the government and healthcare providers about how to discuss older people within the Covid-19 context in a non-stigmatising way.
Tatiana – graphic artist and design expert from AUT University who produced our graphic novel Vivian – will help design the archive and another creative resource. This will help us ensure the voices of older New Zealanders reach as wide an audience as possible and help drive the pandemic response moving forwards.
For more information about the project please contact Merryn: firstname.lastname@example.org