Date Presented 04/02/2022
OT helps people establish and maintain meaningful participation in everyday life. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on older adults already at risk for social isolation and loneliness. This qualitative study informs the profession about the lived experience of older adults during COVID-19 and how the pandemic altered their routines and satisfaction levels. This study guides OT to tailor interventions to meet this population’s needs during a crisis.
Primary Author and Speaker: Alyssa Burgoyne
Additional Authors and Speakers: Madisan Ercanbrack, Courtney Wiley, Barbara Kornblau
PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to explore the phenomenon of social isolation and loneliness in older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social isolation and loneliness were areas of concern before the pandemic began and the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to an increase in distancing and social isolation. There are negative physical and mental health effects related to social isolation and loneliness. Social participation is recognized as an area of occupation under the OTPF-4, and barriers to or deficits in social participation can lead to negative outcomes and/or a lower quality of life. This study informs future practice regarding interventions to address this issue.
DESIGN: This qualitative study used an online survey of open-ended questions to explore the phenomenology of the lived experience of older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were recruited from closed, online Facebook communities and Internet forums specifically for older adult populations. The survey was also posted on research team members’ Facebook pages and distributed through their Twitter feeds to reach the population of 65+. Participation was completely voluntary and the identity of all participants remains anonymous, since no personal identifying information was collected. Inclusion criteria was as follows: aged 65 and older, online access to respond to the survey, and must currently live in the United States. Exclusion criteria included: individuals under age 65, without online access to respond to the survey, and not currently living in the United States.
METHOD: The self-report survey was administered to the older adult participants online. The recruitment messages led participants to an online survey of 4 open-ended questions regarding the impact of COVID-19 on older adults and 6 demographic questions via Qualtrics. The survey provided individuals’ lived experience of COVID-19 and its effects on health and wellness. The qualitative data was analyzed using thematic analysis.
RESULTS: Thematic analysis of the survey results produced several key themes. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, participants have experienced changes in their routines. They also experienced a significant decrease in social participation. Further many are facing a fear of what the future will look like.
CONCLUSION: This study lays a foundation on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on older adults. Based on the survey results, it is apparent that older adults are experiencing occupational disruption and increased social isolation and loneliness due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Social isolation and loneliness have become an established problem that negatively affects physical and mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening these problems. Social distancing and the urge to stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily taken away opportunities for some individuals to participate in what they find to be meaningful occupations. Occupational therapy can address these areas of concern to increase social participation, develop coping skills, and re-establish routines in older adults during times of change and uncertainty. With older adults at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and at a higher risk of social isolation and loneliness in general, continued research is needed to identify the effects COVID-19 has had on older adults throughout this pandemic and interventions most effective to increase their well-being and quality of life.
IMPACT STATEMENT: This study lays a foundation for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults. Occupational therapy can address identified areas of concern to increase social participation, develop coping skills, and re-establish routines in older adults during times of change and uncertainty.
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