Many older people still living ‘lockdown lives’ and struggling to regain independence

Some have yet to regain control over their finances whether through choice or otherwise

Many older people in Ireland are struggling to regain their independence despite pandemic restrictions being lifted, Age Action has warned.

Although evidence suggests older people were more mentally resilient than younger people through lockdowns, they were worst hit by bereavement, cocooning and a lack of access to healthcare, the charity said.

Many are also finding it difficult to break free of routines established over the past three years, said Celine Clarke, Age Action’s head of advocacy and public affairs.

“It is spilling over now, older people are still cautious,” she said.


“For many, routines have been set in place. Older people had to rely more on family members during the pandemic - that habit was created.

“With the best will in the world, people did that for their loved ones, but it also meant those people lost some of their independence. Some handed over control of their finances, the picking up of pensions and getting money out of the bank. Some have not regained that control over their finances whether through choice or otherwise.”

Decisions made within families about how to look after older loved ones unwittingly “undermined their ability to take decisions and their capacity for independence”, said Ms Clarke.

“That has carried over. Ageism is a real thing and ageism can also be against yourself as well. I think that is what we can see in some people now feeling not able to do certain things. This has definitely been informed by Covid restrictions, where maybe older people feel more vulnerable than they are or were and are limiting their lives accordingly.”

Reticence continues about crowds, socialising, using public transport and even trips to the supermarket, she said, particularly now with rising cases of Covid.

“Even people who didn’t stay at home during the restrictions, who maybe went to the shops, felt like they were being looked at as if they shouldn’t be out. There was a whole narrative that they shouldn’t leave home. Some people haven’t been able to overcome that narrative.”

There are half a million people aged in their 60s in Ireland, and another half a million aged 70 and over.

“That is one million different stories, different lives and not all those people are the same, they can’t be treated as a homogeneous group,” said Ms Clarke.

“Some older people fared well during Covid and post-Covid where their circumstances allowed them to be resilient. But we can see through various studies and focus groups that older people feel they experienced ageism, giving them a diminished sense of themselves and how they viewed themselves.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests older people experienced “huge bereavement” throughout the pandemic “and are still experiencing that”. Many restricted their activities and “definitely minimised their lives in line with public health advice”.

Age Action runs around 30 University of the Third Age groups countrywide, which offer older people “lifelong learning” classes in art, languages and history, although some have yet to return fully.

Some 65 per cent of people in Ireland aged 65 and over “don’t have the skills or the devices to access the internet”, Ms Clarke said. This was not helped by Age Action having to suspend its own digital literacy programme during the pandemic.

While some research suggests older people didn’t suffer the same degree of mental health issues as younger people during the pandemic, a report by EU research agency Eurofound earlier this year found 21 per cent of people in Ireland aged 60 and over said they were suffering “potentially clinically significant levels of depressive symptoms”. This is double the proportion it was before the pandemic.

High levels of concern about the pandemic were most common for people aged 70 and over living alone (54 per cent), women (52 per cent) and those educated only to primary level (56 per cent).

Older people educated to third level (40 per cent) were much less likely to be anxious about the outbreak and its consequences.

Those living in rural areas (51 per cent) were also among the most affected.

People in Ireland aged 70 and over were also the most likely group to have reduced exercise (28 per cent) and least likely to have increased their activity (19 per cent) during restrictions, said the study.

Ms Clarke said other data is scant on older people’s experiences of the pandemic and its ongoing effects, not least for nursing home residents who experienced “a huge amount of deaths”.

More than a third of Covid deaths in Ireland were in nursing homes and Age Action is demanding the Government open a public inquiry into the pandemic similar to one in the UK which began its hearings in recent weeks.