Older people have spent a lot of time thinking about how best to keep safe and reduce their risk of becoming ill with COVID-19. However, many older people—particularly those who may feel they may not have long to live—faced a difficult dilemma between wanting to keep safe and wanting to make the most of their life.
The desire to connect and spend time with family and friends face-to-face often weighed heavily into this trade-off. For example, grandparents often felt sad about not being there to witness important developmental milestones of their grandchildren. Others felt disappointed about missing out on long-planned holidays, reunions or family celebrations. For many, this has led to feelings of loneliness or of ‘missing out’ and a sense of needing to find new ways of ‘filling the time’.
Adult children have also often found it difficult to decide if and when to visit older parents. On one hand, they want to keep their parents safe, but on the other hand they long to connect and see each other in the flesh.
Throughout the pandemic, older people’s own perceptions about their COVID-19-related risks, and the messages about their risks communicated by the government and communities have sometimes been in stark contrast. For example, older people who feel healthy and well may oppose being stereotyped into the high-risk group, simply on the basis of their age. Instead, they may wish to be allowed to do more to help support their communities and those most vulnerable.
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Rachel (42) and David (77) have been married for 11 years and live in Limehouse. David who lives with Levy Body Dementia, benefits from accessible creative activities such as dancing, theatre, and drawing: 'Since the lockdown, all our groups have transferred online, and we've found more kindred spirits and support than ever before. Of course, it's been tough in many ways given all the limitations and fear for David, who is deemed highly vulnerable. He forgets why he has to wash his hands, can't go to the pool anymore or see people he used to see. All the practical help I had struggled to organise over the years to provide me with some respite and continue some freelancing work, has stopped. Having to rebuild a new routine has been tough on both of us, but as always we prefer to focus on the bright side. We still have each other and in that alone we are lucky. Many people in similar situations are separated because one is 'locked up' in care home with all the fear and worries that ensue.'
Nish lives in Whitechapel and works as an NHS and Local Authority frontline Mental Health Specialist: 'My brother also works in the NHS and usually lives with my parents in Paddington. However due to my dad being on the at-risk list with COPD and diabetes he had to move in with me. My usual stress buster is meeting up with my siblings, spending time with my adorable nephews and nieces. With lockdown and social distancing, I haven't seen my family for over six weeks. My older brother is at home looking after dad. My mum unfortunately is in Bangladesh and struggling to get back. My three sisters live with their families across three London boroughs. Before the lockdown we had a fortnightly routine of family gathering at my parents’ place. It's very hard, going to work without much respite from stress. My brother and I are desperately missing our family.'
Ankita (43) and Rob (44) with kids, Yasmin (11) and Milan (8) and housekeeper, Anitha (43). Rob, Ankita and Anitha reflect on their parents’ challenges during lockdown: 'The hardest part is being away from our families. Rob’s elderly mother is widowed and shielding at home in Dollis Hill. We usually visit her every 2-3 weeks, but since we were in Italy during February half-term, we’ve had to stay away from her. In the initial weeks, we all coped fine but as the lockdown continued, we missed seeing her face. She’s old and didn’t have a smartphone or iPad, so it took lots of persuasion for her to accept an iPad so we can video call her. Rob set it up for her and delivered it to her about a month ago…. at least we can now see her face. Ankita’s parents and Anitha’s family are in India. India had closed its borders to foreigners on 22nd March, so the fact that we can't jump on a plane and be there, is heart-breaking. Our families are safe and healthy but if something happens, we are hopeless. Not able to see them, say goodbye, to arrange or attend a funeral.'