A letter from AgeLab researchers to the editor of The Journal of Gerontological Social Work discusses findings from an ongoing AgeLab study on the responses of the “oldest old”—those ages 85 and older—to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Titled “A Day in the Life,” the mixed methods study utilizes surveys and phone interviews administered to members of the Lifestyle Leaders Panel to check in on their daily activities and their feelings about the pandemic. The project began in March 2020, near the height of restrictions as well as worries related to the virus; the first round of phone interviews concluded in late April 2020 and the next round of data collection is almost underway.
The letter details several early findings that have emerged from the Day in the Life study. First, the Lifestyle Leaders have demonstrated notable resilience in handling shelter in place and social distancing orders. The authors write, “with many Lifestyle Leaders accustomed to some forms of social distance already, life for many of them during the pandemic, especially those with more limited mobility, is largely business-as-usual.”
At the same time, many panelists, especially those living in housing communities, reported struggling with feelings of powerlessness in the wake of tightening restrictions on their activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “The unpredictable progression of government regulation restricting everyone’s daily activities is mirrored by the rapid implementation of regulations within age-restricted group living environments that many of the Lifestyle Leaders inhabit.”
The letter concludes with three recommendations for social workers to empower older adults during the pandemic. “Physical distancing means many of our Lifestyle Leaders, including those who would self-identify as “less tech-savvy,” are engaging (and often struggling alone) with devices that are their only connection to the outside world.” With more older adults using various technologies and platforms to stay connected to people, places, and things, social workers may be able to connect older adults to instrumental resources, such as home delivery services; they can help reinforce older adults’ sense of purpose and agency in a time when they may be made to feel helpless otherwise; and they can empower older adults’ technological industry to help keep them connected during the pandemic.
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