Decline in Civic Engagement Among Aging Adults Since Start of Pandemic

Engagement in Places Altered Since Covid-19: A Multi-Method Study of Community Engagement and Health Among Older Americans

Author: University of Colorado at Boulder
Published: 2024/04/10
Post type: Survey, Analysis – Peer Reviewed: Yeah
Content: SummaryMajor – Related Posts

Synopsis: New research covering 7,000 people aged 55 and older indicates a trend toward more stay-at-home behavior, with fewer visits to restaurants, gyms and other community spaces. The COVID 19 pandemic fundamentally altered neighborhoods, communities, and daily routines among older Americans, and these changes have long-term consequences for their physical, mental, social, and cognitive health. Respondents said they spend more time at home. 75% said they went out to dinner less. About 62% said they visit fewer cultural and artistic places. More than half said they attend church or the gym less than before the pandemic.

Main summary

Years after the United States began to slowly emerge from mandatory COVID-19 lockdowns, more than half of older adults still spend more time at home and less time socializing in public spaces than before the pandemic, according to a new research from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Participants cited fear of infection and a “more uncomfortable and hostile” social dynamic as key reasons for their withdrawal from civic life.

“The pandemic is not over for many people,” said Jessica Finlay, an assistant professor of geography whose findings are revealed in a series of new papers. “Some people feel abandoned.”

The study comes amid what the U.S. Surgeon General recently called a “loneliness epidemic” in which older adults, especially those with compromised immune systems or disabilities, are particularly vulnerable.

“We found that the pandemic fundamentally altered neighborhoods, communities, and daily routines among older Americans, and these changes have long-term consequences for their physical, mental, social, and cognitive health,” Finlay said.

I just can’t go back

As a health geographer and environmental gerontologist, Finlay studies how social and built environments impact health as we age.

In March 2020, when restaurants, gyms, grocery stores and other gathering places closed amid stay-at-home orders, you immediately wondered what the lasting impacts would be. Shortly after, she launched the COVID-19 Coping Study with University of Michigan epidemiologist Lindsay Kobayashi. They began their research with a baseline and a monthly survey. Since then, nearly 7,000 people over age 55 from all 50 states have participated.

Researchers annually review and ask open-ended questions about how neighborhoods and relationships have changed, how people are spending their time, opinions and experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their physical and mental health.

“We have been in the field during incredibly crucial times,” Finlay said, noting that the polls were conducted shortly after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and again after the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Taken together, the results paint a worrying picture in which a substantial portion of the elderly population remains isolated even after others have left.

In an article published in February in the magazine Wellbeing, Space and Society, 60% of respondents said they spend more time at home, while 75% said they go out to dinner less. About 62% said they visit fewer cultural and arts venues, and more than half said they attend church or the gym less than before the pandemic.

While that survey was conducted two years ago, the most recent survey conducted in spring 2023 showed similar trends, with more than half of respondents still reporting that their socializing and entertainment routines were different than they were before the pandemic. pandemic.

In another article titled “I just can’t go back” 80% of respondents reported that there are some places they no longer want to visit in person.

“The thought of walking into a gym with a lot of people breathing heavily and sweating is not something I can imagine doing ever again,” said a 72-year-old man.

Those who said they still go to public places like grocery stores reported rushing in and out and skipping casual chats.

“It’s been hard,” said a 68-year-old woman. “You don’t stop to talk to people anymore.”

Many respondents reported that they were afraid of becoming infected with a virus or infecting their young or immunocompromised loved ones, and said they felt “irresponsible” for being around so many people.

Some reported receiving dirty looks or rude comments when wearing masks or asking others to keep their distance, interpersonal exchanges that reinforced their inclination to stay home.

Revitalizing human connection

The news is not all bad, Finlay stresses.

At least 10% of older adults report exercising outdoors more frequently since the pandemic. And a small but vocal minority said their worlds had actually opened up, as more meetings, concerts and classes became available online. Still, Finlay worries that the loss of spontaneous interactions in what sociologists call “third places” could have serious health consequences.

Previous research shows that a lack of social connection can increase the risk of premature death as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and exacerbate mental illness and dementia.

“For some older adults who live alone, that brief, unplanned exchange with the butcher or cashier may be the only friendly smile they see all day, and they’ve lost it,” Finlay said.

Social health also at risk

“It is increasingly rare for Americans with different sociopolitical perspectives to come together and converse respectfully,” he writes.

Finlay hopes her work can encourage policymakers to create more accessible spaces for people of all ages who are now more cautious about getting sick, such as outdoor dining spaces, ventilated concert halls, or hybrid events or masked

He also hopes people will give some grace to those still wearing masks or keeping their distance.

“It is a privilege to be able to ‘get through’ the pandemic and many people, for a multitude of reasons, simply do not have that privilege. The world seems different to them now,” he said. “How can we make it easier for them to re-engage?”

Attribution/Source(s):

This peer-reviewed publication from our Senior News section was selected for circulation by Disabled World editors because of its likely interest to readers in our disability community. Although content may have been edited for style, clarity, or length, the article “Decrease in civic engagement among older adults since the start of the pandemic” was originally written by the University of Colorado at Boulder and submitted for publication on 04/10/2024. If you require further information or clarification, you may contact the University of Colorado at Boulder at colorado.edu website. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.

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Cite this page (APA): University of Colorado at Boulder. (2024, April 10). Decreased civic engagement among older adults since the start of the pandemic. Disabled world. Retrieved April 10, 2024 from www.disabled-world.com/news/seniors/staying-home.php

Permanent link: Decrease in civic engagement among older adults since the start of the pandemic: New research covering 7,000 seniors People aged 55 and older indicate a trend toward more stay-at-home behavior, with fewer visits to restaurants, gyms and other community spaces.

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