Older Australians: coping with life after lockdown
Life might be getting back to a 'new normal', but not everyone is jumping in feet first. Here, two older Australians share what day-to-day life looks like for them as restrictions ease.
As quickly as life as we knew it ground to a halt a few months ago when COVID-19 hit, it’s now picking up pace – we’ve got more freedom to shop, socialise and get back to business, albeit with new rules and hygiene measures in place.
But just because we can have people over for dinner, head out for a meal or enjoy a spot of shopping, some of us aren’t keen to offer – or accept – those invites or browse those menus just yet.
“We aren’t eating out in cafes or restaurants and are even reluctant to order a takeaway,” says 73-year-old Gary Prior, who lives with his wife, Trish, in Sydney.
“And other than leaving home to buy essentials like food or to visit the chemist, we wouldn’t head to the shops just to browse or have a coffee at the moment.”
Other older people in Australia are equally reluctant about re-entering the world. Sarah Watkins says she should – and ordinarily would – have visited her GP for a check-up but hasn’t.
“I was booked into have a routine colonoscopy too, but I’m postponing that for now as well,” says 75-year-old Sarah, who lives on her own on the NSW north coast. “It doesn’t feel safe for me to do those things yet.”
An uncertain time
Given the fact that people aged 70 and over are at a greater risk of more serious illness if they’re infected with coronavirus, it’s not surprising that worries remain, even as restrictions ease.
“Our main concern is for our ongoing health,” says Gary. “We do fear contracting the virus, which we know can be much worse for people in our age group, particularly if you have existing health issues, which we do.”
The possibility of new infections, with people becoming less and less conscious of physical distancing and hygiene, really worries me.
We’re also confused about things like whether to wear masks or not when we’re out in public. Some sources say they’re not necessary and could even be unhelpful, which conflicts with other information. When you don’t know what to do for the best, it’s just easier to avoid the situation altogether.”
Sarah agrees that confusion and conflicting information about the virus have added to her stress levels.
“Due to that, I made the decision recently to try and limit how much news I watch and read and have found that’s helped a little.
“The possibility of new infections, with people becoming less conscious of physical distancing and hygiene – which I’m noticing when I do leave home – also really worries me.”
Find reliable, up-to-date health advice and information about coronavirus.
At their own pace
Gary says he and Trish haven’t felt any pressure from the various clubs and social groups to which they belong to return to face-to-face catchups.
“That’s mostly because members are of a similar age to us, so are also very wary of extended contact and the risk that might pose.
Instead, we’ve all been very active in maintaining contact through emails, video calls and messaging.”
Gary and Trish are enjoying regular catchups with immediate family who live nearby, though, but it’s always done “by the rules”.
“Our kids and grandkids have been so good. They’re very mindful of maintaining distance and the advice around not sharing food, whether they’re in our house or we’re in theirs. It’s not easy, but it means we feel comfortable doing it and will continue to do it, which I think is important for all of us,” says Gary.
I hope my family will understand about any boundaries or rules I might have
Sarah, whose family lives in Sydney, still hasn’t had visitors to her house, located a few hours north.
“I haven’t felt comfortable to do that yet, but my son and his family are visiting soon. I’m really looking forward to seeing and spending time with them, rather than just speaking on the phone, but at the same time, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about them coming into my home.
“They lead quite a full social life in the city, and I’m worried it’s a risk for me, given I feel quite safe and isolated where I live. I hope they’ll understand and will take things at my pace and won’t make me feel awkward about any boundaries or rules I might have.”
“It’s the little things you miss”
While some of us are missing attending big music festivals and taking overseas trips, for others the “remember-when” moments are more modest – but no less important.
“I used to look forward to a weekly walk and coffee with a friend, but haven’t done that for months,” says Sarah. “I’ve found it’s the little things that you miss the most.”
Likewise, Trish says not heading out for their usual fortnightly lunch at a local RSL club has left a noticeable gap.
"It’s the little things that you miss the most," she says.
“Even though I really enjoy cooking, it’s nice to get out for lunch every now and again. And we used to travel into Sydney’s CBD quite regularly for a meal or to visit an art gallery. We always used public transport but now we’re reluctant to do that, even at off-peak times.”
Still, there have been some lockdown silver linings.
“My brother lives overseas and we’ve been making much more of an effort to keep in touch with each other thanks to all this,” says Sarah. “It’s lovely and is something I hope we’ll keep doing.”
Gary has taken the opportunity to put his DIY skills to work.
“One good thing is we’ve found time to do a few jobs around home which we’d been putting off,” he says. “And we’re really enjoying our garden again. We’ve spent a lot of time working on it – it hasn’t looked this good in years!
I guess we have well and truly settled into our stay-at-home routine now and are comfortable with it being our ‘new normal’ for many more months yet. It could be a lot worse, and we know it is for some people, so we’re fortunate.”
You can find advice around how older people can reconnect after lockdown here.