ONS COVID-19 Briefing: Coronavirus and the Social Impacts on Older People

Indicators from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey on the social impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on older people in Great Britain.

Statistician's comment

Older people are experiencing some aspects of the lockdown situation differently from younger people, worrying less about finances but worrying more about access to essentials. Keeping in touch with friends and family remotely and doing activities such as gardening and reading are helping them cope.

“They are more likely to be looking out for their neighbours and feel supported by their local communities. Interestingly, people in their 60s are the least optimistic about when life will return to normal, with more than a quarter thinking it will take at least a year or will never return to normal”.

Key points

  • Among older people (aged 60 years and over) who were worried about the effect COVID-19 was having on their lives, their main concerns were being unable to make plans in general (64.5%), personal travel plans such as holidays (53.4%) and their own well-being (51.4%).
  • The most common ways older people said it had been affected were being worried about the future (70%), feeling stressed or anxious (54.1%) and being bored (43.3%).
  • Staying in touch with family and friends remotely was the main way those aged 60 years and over said they were coping whilst staying at home, followed by gardening, reading and exercise.
  • Those aged 60 years and over were most likely to say they expect the financial situation of their household to stay the same over the next 12 months and more likely to say this than younger age groups.
  • People aged in their 60s were the least optimistic about how long it will take for life to return to normal, with a higher proportion saying it will take more than a year or that life will never return to normal, than those aged under 60 years and those aged 70 years and over.

Context

Impacts of the coronavirus on own life

The oldest and youngest ages were the least likely to be worried about the effect COVID-19 was having on their lives.

60 years and over were most likely to say were being affected by the coronavirus were being unable to make plans in general (64.5%), personal travel plans such as holidays (53.4%) and their own well-being (51.4%).

Overall, those aged 60 years and over were less likely to say they had struggled to get the groceries and toiletries that they wanted (27.5%) than those aged under 60 years (39.1%). However, of those who said they were worried about the effect the coronavirus was having on their lives, older people were more likely to say their access to groceries, medication and essentials had been affected than younger age groups.

Those aged 60 years and over who were economically active (employed, self-employed or unemployed) were more likely to say their finances have been affected (26.8%) than older people who were economically inactive (9.6%) but were less likely to say this than those economically active aged under 60 years (39.3%).

22.8% of those aged 60 years and over who were worried about the effect the coronavirus was having on their life said that their relationships had been affected. This was a similar level to other age groups who were worried, other than those aged 16 to 29 years, who were the most likely to say their relationships had been affected.

Those aged 60 years and over who were married, or cohabitating were less likely to say their relationship with their spouse had been affected (45.9%) than those aged under 60 years who were married or cohabitating (64.7%).

Well-being

The most common ways those aged 60 years and over were likely to say it had been affected were being worried about the future (70%), feeling stressed or anxious (54.1%) and being bored (43.3%).

People in their 70s who said their well-being had been affected were less likely to say they were feeling stressed or anxious than younger ages and those aged 70 years and over were less likely to say that their well-being has been affected by mental health issues.

Those aged 60 years and over were equally as likely to be bored as other age groups apart from those aged 16 to 29 years, who were significantly the most likely to say their well-being was affected by being bored.

Health

Around one-third of those aged 60 to 69 years reported having a health condition, rising to two-fifths of those aged 70 to 79 years and almost a half of those aged 80 years and over.

Those aged 60 years and over were also more likely to have a limiting long-standing illness, with those aged 80 years and over the most likely. Those in older age groups also reported having worse general health overall than younger people and were less likely than those under 60 years to report very good general health, with those over 70 years the least likely.

Although 42% of those aged 70 years and over reported having a health condition, a relatively small proportion of older people who were worried about the effect that COVID-19 was having on their life, reported that their health was being affected compared with other worries; 8.5% of those aged over 70 years, a smaller proportion than those aged under 70 years (12.9%). They were also less likely to say their mental health had been affected.

Impact of the Coronavirus on friends and family's lives

Among those aged 60 years and over who were very or somewhat worried about the effect on friends and family, the most frequently mentioned concerns were their well-being (55.8%) and work (55.4%).

Relatively high proportions of older people were also worried about the effect the coronavirus was having on the finances (47.5%), health (42.5%) and schools and universities (41%) of their friends and family.

Coping strategies

Older people were more likely to say reading and gardening were helping them to cope with staying at home than those aged under 60 years and within older age groups those aged 70 to 79 years were the most likely to say gardening.

Although older people were more likely to have access to a garden, with those aged 70 to 79 years the most likely (95.2%), 88.1% of those aged 30 to 59 years also had a garden.

Community support

People aged in their 60s were less likely never to have checked on their neighbours who might need help than those aged under 60 years. Those aged in their 60s and 70s were also more likely than those aged under 60 years to say they had checked on their neighbour’s multiple times (three or more).

Those aged 60 years and over were more likely to agree to community support than those aged under 60 years.

Looking forward

The 60 to 69 years age group were the least optimistic about how long it will take for life to return to normal, with a higher proportion saying it will take more than a year or that life will never return to normal, than those aged under 60 years and those aged over 70 years, and a lower proportion thinking life will return to normal in less than six months compared with those aged under 60 years.

Those aged 60 years and over were most likely to say they expect the financial situation of their household to stay the same over the next 12 months (55.6%) rather than getting a little or a lot worse (35%) or a little or a lot better (9.5%) and are more likely to think their financial situation will remain unchanged than younger age groups.

Those aged 60 years and over who were economically active (employed, self-employed or unemployed) were more likely to think their financial situation would get a little or a lot worse (46.2%) than those who were economically inactive (32.2%).