WELLINGTON COUNTY – A new Vital Focus report details how older adults have been impacted by COVID-19, as the pandemic reaches the two-year mark.
In February, Toward Common Ground and its collaborating partners released the eighth and ninth reports in a Vital Focus series on the secondary effects of the pandemic.
Toward Common Ground is a collaboration of organizations that centralize local data and information about wellbeing and collectively respond to community needs.
The reports were prepared in consultation with the Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo Wellington (CMHA WW) and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.
One highlights how the secondary effects of the pandemic have impacted older adults – individuals 65 and older – and offers recommendations to address the effects.
“We know that the pandemic hasn’t been easy for anyone,” said Toward Common Ground manager Sarah Haanstra.
“We know that it has, in some cases, created or exacerbated kind of secondary effects and challenges for folks.
“And so we wanted to pull together what we know to both inform where there are gaps in needs, and also inform where changes could be made in the future.”
The report found impacts felt by older adults include:
– an increase in loneliness and social isolation;
– potential for new or worsening experiences of anxiety and depression;
– negative impacts on those living with dementia and their caregivers; and
– exacerbation of a digital divide.
Haanstra cited social isolation as a dominant impact felt by older adults, especially for those living in long-term care where visits were on and off.
“For certain parts of the pandemic, all of those are missed opportunities to spend time with others, which we know is a protective factor in terms of positive mental health,” Haanstra explained.
The pandemic has also robbed older adults of opportunities to get outside for walking and exercising.
“Sometimes there were challenges with that, if there were programs where people had those opportunities, or programs where people had opportunities to connect with one another,” Haanstra said, noting many were paused or made virtual, which worked for some people, but not all.
A larger impact, which Haanstra noted hasn’t been specific to older adults, is the uncertainty related to the pandemic and the increased stress and anxiety, which has implications for mental health.
Haanstra said the organization’s role and its hope with the reports is that people who need them will make use of them.
“We know that our reports have supported numerous grant applications for funding to address pressing needs,” Haanstra said.
“We know that they’ve formed program changes in response to some of the secondary effects.
“Our programs or organizations and our services have the information they need in front of them to be able to say ‘this issue really matters.’”
Recommendations in the report include:
– increasing investment in programs that address the effects of loneliness and social isolation;
– providing additional education on technology to improve digital literacy; and
– addressing older-adult food insecurity and barriers to accessing food.
Haanstra said it’s important to highlight the issues older adults are facing for several reasons.
“If we know what challenges exist, we are better positioned to address those challenges,” she explained. “So certainly, we want people to have the information in front of them.
“It’s important because we want people to have the information that they need to be able to respond accordingly to match their responses and their programs to the needs that are there.”
Haanstra said the information also allows Toward Common Ground to learn and prepare for the future.
“If we can understand how a global event like this has impacted people, and we can pull all that information into one place and make it easy for people to read about those impacts, then moving forward into the future, we can be more prepared or have an insight into some of the effects that might happen should a different adverse event happen,” she explained.
Haanstra noted funding is always welcome to address needs in the best way possible. For those who are struggling or in crisis, Haanstra recommends they reach out to Here 24/7, Compass Community Services’ distress line or walk-in clinics, among other services.
For those looking for social connection, the Guelph Wellington Seniors Association offers programs and services to support older adults.
“I would also say reaching out to networks of friends and community and finding those ways to safely connect with others in ways that are comfortable for people and that people feel comfortable doing,” she added.
To view the full report, visit towardcommonground.ca.