Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile: Sociology and CEVE UC launch the 1st study in Chile of the impact of the pandemic on the elderly

More headaches, memory loss, sleeping difficulties, gastric problems, and the stress of seeing daily images that showed them as the group most vulnerable to the contagion of the coronavirus: the pandemic has had a strong blow on people’s mental health older people, but it has also shown their resilience in the face of this health crisis. This is demonstrated by the study Quality of Life of Chilean Elderly People during the COVID-19 Pandemic ,The main results of which were presented this Thursday, July 22, by the academic from the UC Institute of Sociology , Soledad Herrera, director of the Center for the Study of Aging and Aging (CEVE UC) .

Prepared with the participation of the UC School of Nursing and the USACH Advanced Studies Institute (IDEA), this measurement observed the psychological, social, physical and technological consequences experienced by the elderly, generating a unique analysis of its kind: the study included the sample of the Fifth National Survey of Quality of Life in Old Age (UC-Caja Los Andes, 2019) , which made it possible to compare the sensations prior to the arrival of the coronavirus and counteract them with different moments of the current pandemic.

“The social image of this segment is focused on their vulnerability, but not on their resilience attributes. Intergenerational co-residency increased. There the role of the elderly was key, being a pillar of support for the youngest” – Soledad Herrera.

These new measurements were carried out through telephone follow-ups to a subsample of 720 elderly people, consulting them on their experience during three periods of the COVID-19 emergency in Chile: winter 2020, summer 2020/21 and this fall 2021.

“The Quality of Life Survey in Old Age 2019 showed that the level of satisfaction with life was increasing in older people and they were living more actively. With the pandemic, this level of satisfaction dropped dramatically, with a sharp increase in mental health problems, especially depressive and anxiety symptoms. It is something that has been sustained throughout the pandemic, and increasingly worse in these three measured phases of the covid-19 emergency. There is a cumulative effect of the pandemic that is being expressed in these figures “says Soledad Herrera, UC academic and principal investigator of the study, which also had the participation of researchers Raúl Elgueta, Beatriz Fernández, Claudia Giacoman, Daniella Leal and Miriam Rubio, Pío Marshall and Felipe Bustamante.

The presentation of these results – which correspond to the ANID-COVID0041 project – included an initial review by the UC rector Ignacio Sánchez, and the subsequent analysis by the dean of the UC Faculty of Social Sciences , Mariane Krause; Patricia Pallavicini from IDEA; and Jorge Browne, UC geriatrician.

“Although there is an increase in the levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms due to the pandemic and confinement, it is seen, at the same time, that older people have had specific resources to cope with this stressful situation. For example, greater use of smartphones (use of video calls and social networks), greater social connectivity and increased presence and intergenerational collaboration. Therefore, this study shows us not only the negative impact of the pandemic, but also the resilience capacity of older adults, and as a Faculty we are committed to making the concerns of older people visible in this crisis, not only in health, but also psycho-socio-cultural, ” says Dean Mariane Krause, also a UC Psychology scholar .

Major connections
Of the total sample, 56.5% declared having difficulties, the main one being that of not being able to leave the home. Problems associated with purchasing and requesting permits were also mentioned. One of the main comparative data with pre-pandemic life was the level of general satisfaction: people who are not very satisfied or directly dissatisfied with their life increased from 32% in 2019 to 55% in the summer and fall of 2021, which which corresponds to an increase of 23 percentage points.

In addition, depressive and anxiety symptoms rose sharply: from 40% they increased to 43% in the winter of 2020, then to 48% this summer and reached 52% in the fall of 2021.

Product of the level of risk in contagion and the social image of vulnerability associated with the elderly during this pandemic, in the sample 80% declared that they felt “considered a burden for Chilean society.

“The social image of this segment is focused on their vulnerability, but not on their resilience attributes or the contribution that older people have made to their family network during this pandemic. Intergenerational co-residency increased, due to the economic restrictions that some families may have had. There the role of the elderly was key, being a pillar of support for the youngest ” , says Herrera.

Meanwhile, the feeling of loneliness has grown steadily with the coronavirus, going from 42% to 53%, an increase that also occurred among those who live accompanied.

Due to the confinement measures, which were especially rigid with the elderly at the beginning of the pandemic, one of the figures that had a large increase was the use of smartphones : this indicator rose from 47% before the pandemic to 55% last winter and reached 58% in the fall of 2021, with a use mainly to talk on WhatsApp , video calls or update on information.

“The use of smartphones in this age segment has been essential to cope with confinement, this indicator has exploded with much greater technological contact than there was before the pandemic. But this is very unevenly distributed according to the social stratum, and that is why public policies should be more comprehensive and generate support in digital literacy and access to communication technologies in the elderly, such as the contribution made by the Fundación Conecta Mayor in that line of work ” , adds Soledad Herrera.

You can review the book with the specific results of the study at this link , and the presentation made this Thursday, July 22, on our YouTube channel UC .

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