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Elders living in fear of Covid-19

Tauranga social gerontologist Carole Gordon.

Tauranga social gerontologist Carole Gordon says New Zealand needs to restore social connectedness for our elders, who are anxiously limiting their lives because they fear Covid-19.

All 26 people who have died in New Zealand from Covid-19 were older people.

Carole undertook research into the impact of Covid-19 on elders from October to November 2020, finding that while elders felt safe and well-informed during the 2020 lockdowns, they are still afraid to go out, are limiting their lives, and are experiencing high levels of social disconnectedness and hardship.

“Elders did so well managing that long period of social isolation and now there is a challenge to reconnect,” she says.

Carole’s report: ‘Safe? The Impact of Covid-19 on Elders’, calls for urgent investment in restoring elder social connectedness and is expected to be presented to the Covid-19 Group in the Department of the Prime Minister and cabinet.

The report also makes local recommendations for achieving elder social connection and wellbeing to the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation and Tauranga City Council, which collaborated on the research.

Around 30,000 people over 65 live in Tauranga city – about 20 per cent of the population compared to 15 per cent nationwide - with projections this will increase by nine percent in the next 10 years.

Tauranga people aged between 70 and 98 years were interviewed by Carole, including Maori and Pasifika participants.

The report includes several recommendations for government, while recommendations for Western Bay of Plenty authorities include a project to develop an elder wellbeing centre for community-based services, and that SmartGrowth and Tauranga City Council commit to Covid-19 recovery policies that include the wellbeing of ageing and growing communities.

CEO of the Western Bay of Plenty PHO, Lindsey Webber, says the PHO welcomes the opportunity to share insights from this research internally and across its network of general practices.

“In a time of significant health system reform, the importance of active listening, authentic co-design approaches to health service configuration, and a greater understanding of the real issues for elders will be hugely valuable,” says Lindsey.

General manager of community services at Tauranga City Council, Gareth Wallis, says the research provides a unique snapshot into the effects of Covid-19 on elders in Tauranga.

“The insights and learning from this piece of work provide us with a platform to ensure that we continue to strive towards reaching our Age Friendly Cities’ strategic goals,” says Gareth. “This enables us to progress with confidence the development of a new action plan, which is being supported by the Office for Seniors.”

Executive director of Allied Health at the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, Dr Sarah Mitchell, says the stories that have come out from this piece of work are powerful and lessons need to be learned.

“It is really important to recognise the value that elders have in the community. This work clearly aligns to the work we are undertaking in the DHB around supporting people to age well in our communities.”

 

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