As people across the country deal with the impact Covid-19 is having on themselves, their friends, family, colleagues and neighbours, some troubling narratives have been rising to the surface. Over the last month, there have been worrying reports of intensive care being rationed for older people, Do Not Resuscitate orders being placed on the record of care home residents with no discussion, public figures making ageist comments, and people worried about their recovery options if they were to catch the virus.

But even before coronavirus became such a big part of all our lives, the way that society views older people can be unrealistic and two dimensional. It is not an either/or between well-off socialites, or frail and vulnerable people who need protection. Available national statistics play into this narrative too, with few of them breaking down the ‘older age’ bracket to show the reality of the diversity and experience of this wide group of people.

At Independent Age we know growing older can be a positive for many, with more time with friends and family, time to volunteer and opportunities to try new activities but we also hear directly from people aged 65 and over who face significant challenges. From those caring for a partner, to people who can’t afford to turn the heating on, and others living with debilitating pain. 

One of our research participants Charlie, 69, shared with us “My pain in my legs will be very different to anyone else’s… People’s lifestyle support, financial and personal situations will all determine how they cope and live with the condition day to day.”

"During the coronavirus pandemic
it is more important than ever
that these voices are heard."

The research contained in our new report, In Focus, was conducted before the covid-19 outbreak, but the people whose voices we amplify are more important to hear now than ever.

The report explores the reality of life for older people who are often under represented and identifies what matters most to them. We focus on the experiences of:

  • people with mental or physical health conditions
  • and people without children (or whose children had died)
  • people providing informal care for others
  • black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups
  • people on low incomes

We all have our own likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, and despite everyone we spoke to having different interests and unique experiences, many of them felt that they weren’t regarded as individuals. They also shared that they felt hemmed in by society’s expectations of how older people should behave and what their limitations are.

Ron, 66, shared with us “Yes, there are stereotypes: old, sick, crocheting, holding on to their houses, keep the kids out, house stockers, bed blockers – or that’s the media at least.”

Stereotypes can restrict access to support

During the coronavirus pandemic it is more important than ever that these voices are heard, and people from all walks of life are supported to deal with the impact of the outbreak in the most effective way possible. 

The way people in later life are labelled and stereotyped is not only frustrating, but limits their choices. In worst case scenarios these stereotypes can restrict people from accessing the support they need and are entitled to. Those who took part in our research, felt it was often assumed that there were only certain activities they should enjoy, or ways in which they should behave. Research participants told us the importance of being able to express themselves – through hobbies and interests – and the positive impact that this had on their sense of wellbeing and being unable to do this made many of them deeply unhappy.

Age is just a number and throughout our lives we will all need different support and guidance, and Independent Age wants that to be provided in a way that makes people feel they are being understood and seen as individuals, both now and after we have passed through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Morgan Vine, Head of Policy and Influencing at Independent Age