Many people aged 65 and over are facing significant challenges during the current coronavirus pandemic hindered by false assumptions that older people are financially secure and living care free lives. 

A new report by Independent Age says that stereotyping people in later life and treating all over-65s as a single group could be damaging their physical and mental health and and major inequalities exist.

The charity said that many people in older age are more isolated than ever and it has been shocked and disappointed to see an increasing amount of negative and discriminatory language targeted towards older people during the coronavirus pandemic.

The report - In Focus: Experiences of older age in England – uses a combination of quantitative analysis in partnership with City University of London, and qualitative research of older people’s experiences, to highlight the voices that are seldom heard among those who are 65 and over.

Ageist language used during the Covid-19 crisis

The report states that ageism in healthcare should be addressed. People should be treated on their fitness for treatment not on chronological age.

Some of the individuals featured in the new report are living in poverty, others are caring for family members and many are living with long term physical and mental health conditions. 

One contributor Joan, 75, told the charity, “I thought I’d be wealthier as I got older, but it’s going the other way. I never thought I’d go downhill as I have health-wise. I walk bent over now, because of my back. I would have thought it’d happen later than it has.”

The report found that:

  • One in five older people have a severe physical health problem (a condition that limits everyday activities, such as washing and getting dressed, or restricts mobility)
  • One in 10 older people have moderate or severe anxiety or depression
  • One in five older people in England provide informal care

For many people over 65, the Covid-19 outbreak has magnified existing problems and surfaced new ones. A separate survey of over to 2,600 people over 65, carried out recently by Independent Age, found that almost one in eight had heard, or had been on the receiving end of, ageist language during the crisis. These misguided views have the potential to cause lasting damage to individuals, as well as sending societal attitudes towards older people backwards.

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said: “Growing older can be a really positive experience, but as this reports highlights, there are still too many people who face daily challenges. We’re currently all living through extremely difficult times, but there are groups of people in later life who are even more likely to be vulnerable, and they’re the ones we really need to look out for and listen to."

The reports says that the government should be taking the lead in driving positive change so that older people have the opportunity to live well with dignity, choice and purpose.

This change includes a clear plan on social care reform, ensuring that older people are able to get high quality support with their day-to-day lives when they need it. Personal care should be available free at the point of use and protection from the vast costs that some older people and their families are currently faced with. 

It adds that older people should be lifted out of – and kept out of – poverty. As part of the action needed on this, the shockingly low take-up of Pension Credit must be urgently addressed. At just 60%, the takeup rate means that more than a million pensioner households are missing out on this vital benefit.

There should also be a strategic approach to tackling and preventing loneliness and social isolation. The Government should build on its promising foundations, including rolling out social prescribing and making sure that these services understand loneliness and evaluate the impact they are having.