Susan Clark, Healthwatch Central Bedfordshire volunteer, put this question to a number of older people, aged 71 to 92
I have recently spoken to a variety of people aged 71 to 92, from all walks of life, some active physically and mentally, others not quite so active. I asked them how the Covid 19 restrictions have affected them, had they got any thoughts on coping strategies, made any changes in their lives and how do they feel within themselves. All lived in their homes and not in care.
There were a few common elements to all, their aim to keep physically and mentally active; not to listen/watch too much news which concentrates on details of Covid 19 as they found this worrying and frightening (mainly for the 85/92 year olds). They were watching more Freeview, DVDs and what goes on outside with Mother Nature; passing pedestrians; home delivery vans. All had recently had the flu jab with the exception of the youngest (male) who refused it. Most take vitamin D3 either purchased over the counter or on prescription. No one had bought food from Just Eat or the like, or had a relative order for them. Some felt the state pension may be reduced to pay for the extra costs in the country due to Covid 19.
Collectively, looking at the 85 to 92 year old, (the latter being diagnosed with some dementia but still at home with remote help from daughter and son), only one had internet access. There was much comparison to the war years probably because most had actually been evacuees as children. Jigsaws, word-search and paperback reading took up more of their time than pre Covid 19, when many would have wandered around shops daily, or taken a bus to another town with a friend for shopping and coffee.
Most had been sorting out the odd cupboard/drawer and making their home more ‘current’…all being widowed women. Several found things they had forgotten about. One of these ladies was a pen pal to a girl in a junior school, when the school had encouraged letter writing to its pupils in a certain class. Two within this group rediscovered the charm of spoken radio i.e. stories and documentaries and one who lives in a one-bed upstairs flat decided to move a chair into the bedroom facing window, so it was a change of scenery when listening. When they felt low mentally, part of it was wondering if this pandemic will pass before they die, and will they be able to see friends and family. This group all would secretively like to spend Christmas in their own home with no bother but fear they will have to go to son’s or daughters’ homes to appease them.
From 75 upwards to the 92 year old, all still had a landline supplied by BT and the few who did not pay the extra charge per month to have free calls for up to 59 minutes anytime, changed it so that they could talk to everyone anytime. All said their landlines had been used far more than pre Covid 19, and confessed to contacting not just the usual people but distant cousins and people they only usually contacted annually via a Christmas card too.
Looking at age group 75 to 85 year olds, of these there were only two households each housing a married couple (77 and 78 years old). Both homes had internet access, of which one lady did yoga classes via zoom regularly, two of the men purchased on line now and then, three of the four used email, one wife had not used internet ever and one of the couples used Facetime to contact relatives etc. One of each couple both said they needed time alone from the other, ‘their own space’. The rest of this group did not have internet access and lived alone.
This age group were very much into cooking special meals, so that it’s ‘something to look forward to’, because they were not going out to eat at restaurants. One lady said she makes sure she is dressed in clothes she feels happy in and puts on makeup, all before she contacts anyone, as it made her feel more confident even if they can’t see her.
Two separate ladies, unknown to each other liked making cakes, pasties or pies and leaving them on a neighbour’s doorstep; they both felt giving made them feel better. One lady missed going to the beauty salon and tried to have pamper time for herself with special fragrant baths with candles etc. Some of this age group who would have had expensive holidays, spent money on home improvements, some paying for trades persons and others doing DIY, and walking much more than usual and where appropriate gardening and enjoying it. This group confessed they were more aware of changes to our planet and were gradually getting ‘greener’ and buying more things made from renewables i.e. bamboo.
One gentleman, aged 80, who had spent his working life in the armed forces, used to like a drink most days, stopped drinking alcohol the day the pubs shut in March, replacing it with tea and thus losing his sweet tooth for the odd cake. He was contacted by his surgery after a routine blood test recently, with such excellent results in relation to his diabetes; said he will not drink again, and did not when the pubs were open in summer. He always walked a lot and gardened, so that remained the same.
The mental attitude of this group was quite low in the first lockdown, probably borne out of confusion and bewilderment and some of their relatives losing jobs or being furloughed, wondering what the future will be. This shutdown was more of, “Well what can we do? It is what it is”.
The last group being aged 71 to 75, all had internet access with the exception of one who only had a mobile phone without internet and no landline, all had purchased more on-line since March, but still not one of them had purchased a takeaway or had a Just Eat meal delivered to their home. Most were cooking meals from scratch, and being much more creative with the cooking, but some still had some supermarket ready meals. More alcohol was drunk and chocolate eaten at home than pre Covid 19.
All were aware of the need to exercise mentally and physically and were doing what they could. Most had enjoyed good walks in different places, but even when at home found they were noticing much more from their windows. About half now did Facetime calls, mainly female. Two thirds of this group were partaking in some sort of Zoom activity, whether it be a quiz night with friends, meetings, voluntary work, exercise, knitting groups or coursework. One said she enjoyed following a global group on Facebook where people took a picture from their window in their lockdown and shared good thoughts, ‘A view from my window’.
More WhatsApp groups had been created. Contact with others via whatever form within this age group, more than doubled during each lockdown. Most females admitted they felt their overall fitness had improved. There was more depression among this age group than the others and criticism of laws that had been decided and some defiance, mainly from males. A small number, mainly female, who were used to regular hospital and surgery visits were disgruntled that these stopped, especially when they knew of someone else who had been treated for something other than Covid 19 and their appointments postponed.
One man who had been incapacitated a few months before Covid 19, had been helped with cleaning and shopping by friends, but this all stopped in March. He received a couple of food parcels, but after a short time he began to go back to Ta Chi and meditation at home, (both of which he found helpful about 20 years ago) and he was able to use the Buzzer bus again, to get to the shops to choose his own shopping. Another man said he was finally getting his money’s worth from his Sky Sports subscription! Most had access to Watch again, Netflix, Amazon Prime etc. and were doing more “indulgent TV”, meaning a glass of something and maybe chocolates while viewing in pjs, so all cozy.