“We’ve been portrayed as commodities who because of their age are a bit of a nuisance”: A qualitative analysis of older people’s socio-ecological determinants of health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland
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Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Beaux Lane House, Mercer Street Lower, Dublin, Ireland
Maynooth University, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, WE23 HW31, Ireland, Ireland
Publication date: 2023-04-26
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A786
Evidence indicates that older people with biological and social vulnerabilities are at high risk of short- and long-term consequences related to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, studies have also highlighted that the crisis may present opportunities for personal growth if individuals are met with appropriate resources and support. This study’s aim was to explore the perceptions of older people regarding how individual, social, and environmental factors supported or hindered their well-being and health during COVID-19.

We analyzed data collected between April-May and October-November 2021 from the Well-being, Interventions, and Support during Epidemics (WISE) study, a qualitative investigation of community-dwellers based in Ireland and aged 65 years or over. Participants (n=57) completed written submissions, narrative interviews, and/or go-along interviews detailing their experiences during the pandemic. Framework analysis was carried out in NVivo 12 to identify determinants, linkages, and explanations within Bronfenbrenner’s socio-ecological model.

Mean age of participants was 74.9 years, 57% were female, 45% lived alone, and 88% lived in urban or suburban areas. Our findings highlight the heterogeneous effect of COVID-19 across diverse older individuals who held distinct concerns, capabilities, and roles in society before and during the pandemic. Contextual characteristics such as housing, access to nature and neighbourhood social and built environments had an influential role in participants’ well-being and supports. We identified mixed views regarding public health restrictions, but a consensus emerged questioning the suitability of one-size-fits-all approaches based on chronological age. Moreover, respondents suggested that some negative consequences could have been avoided by collaborating with older people and with the provision of clearer communications.

Our analysis identified interdependencies between individual characteristics and socio-ecological factors that influenced participants’ development of adaptive strategies, coping mechanisms, and availability of supports. These represent areas of opportunity for the development of age-friendly interventions during and beyond public health crises.

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