COVID-19: The Impact of Social Distancing on Vulnerable Older Adults

Natashe Lemos Dekker coordinated a research project that looked at how vulnerable older adults experienced the COVID-19 measures in the Netherlands, what particular difficulties they encountered, and what solutions were being found. This subproject was part of a broader project on the Social Impact of Physical Distancing on Vulnerable Populations at the University of Amsterdam in collaboration with research partners.

The research showed that inequality increased due to the COVID-19 measures. As older adults are were considered to be especially vulnerable to corona, the restrictions on nursing homes have been more strict than in other segments of society. While, schools, bars, restaurants, and cultural institutions were closed, no total lockdown was enforced in the Netherlands. Social contact beyond the household was initially allowed on the condition that it was restricted to a maximum of three persons at a distance of at least 1.5 meters.

Vulnerable groups and older adults, however, were advised to stay inside and avoid physical contact altogether. A visit ban was imposed on nursing homes. Apart from staff, no visitors were allowed, residents were not allowed to go outside, and family members had to stay away. The strict regulations in nursing homes led to a strong separation between life inside and outside of the homes.

Inequality also increased due to increased digitization, as this resulted in a communication gap for older adults. For many, using digital communication was difficult. Many participants in this study were anxious to become ill themselves, and of what this would imply if their relatives could not visit them, and feared a “second wave” of contamination would mean they would have to go back to social isolation. The many uncertainties and a lack of clarity in the provided information added to this sense of insecurity.

For more information, see Or download the report on vulnerable older adults, the full project report on vulnerable populations, or the infographic leaflet developed together with the Ben Sajet Center (all in Dutch, PDF).