Did the corona pandemic impact the care situation of older people?

The corona pandemic and the measures introduced as a result only affected the care situation in a small group of older people. This is one of the conclusions in a study on the subject by Prof. Marjolein Broese van Groenou of VU University Amsterdam. She shares her findings in the latest publication of the Journal of Gerontology and Geriatrics (TGG).

For more than 50 years, the scientific journal, TGG, has covered all aspects of the wider scientific area of gerontology and geriatrics. Prof. Broese van Groenou has been one of the regular contributors for many years. ‘I think it is important to publish articles on the Dutch healthcare context in Dutch as well. This makes it easier to access for people on the shop floor, especially online on TGG’s ‘open access’ platform.’

Your latest publication in TGG is a comparison of the care situation before and after the pandemic?

‘That’s right. The article is part of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA). Since 1992, thousands of Dutch older people have been regularly answering questions about how they are doing physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. They also take part in physical and cognitive tests. The resulting data form the basis for a wealth of scientific knowledge on ageing. Marije Tange and I recently used the dataset to see how many and which older people report a change in their care situation before and after corona. And how these changes affect psychological well-being.’

Why were you eager to investigate this?

‘The closure of non-residential care services during the first lockdown in spring 2020 contributed to informal carers becoming more burdened with caring for their loved ones in the home environment. The absence of care or the inability to receive informal care may have been extra stressful for older people. Several studies have surveyed informal caregivers and citizens on their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020. What is still missing is a comparison with the period prior to the pandemic. This provides more insight into how social constraints led to changes in the care situation and well-being of older people.’

And what did your questions reveal?

‘The results show that little has changed in the care situation of older people. On both surveys, the vast majority do not provide care (73%) or receive care (62%). 7% continued to provide informal care to others, while 15% stopped doing so and 5% started providing care. 17% continued to receive care from various sources, while 15% stopped receiving care, and 6% received care for the first time. The informal caregivers consist mainly of women and younger older people in good health, and the care recipients are mainly women and older people in poor health. Receiving care has a significant negative impact on psychological well-being, but providing informal care has no effect on well-being. The results imply that the pandemic and its measures only affected the provision of care to and by older people in a small group.’

Do you find that a surprising conclusion?

‘We generally see in LASA that people who receive care are more likely to have symptoms of depression than those who do not receive care. If you see that 17% continued to receive care, while 15% stopped receiving care, it is logical that, roughly speaking, you then arrive at about the same number of people with symptoms of depression. You might expect that the group recovered reasonably well after the pandemic. It will be interesting to see over time whether this recovery is permanent or not. Of course, we will continue to publish about this in the Journal of Gerontology and Geriatrics.’