Understanding how COVID-19 influences the wellbeing of the elderly in Australia


Background and objectives

Globally there is an increased risk of serious illness from Coronavirus (COVID-19) among older adults. Australia is not an exception. To protect the elderly population from contracting the COVID-19, the Federal Government has strongly recommended for people over 70 years old to self-isolate at home for as long as practicable. Meanwhile, there is also evidence suggesting that social isolation among the elderly is a “serious public health concern”, including a greater risk of depression and anxiety.

The objective of this study is to find out more about older adults’ subjective wellbeing and which life circumstances are most important, especially under the current COVID-19 outbreak. Subjective well being (often equated with “happiness”) refers to how people think about and experience their lives. Life satisfaction is a key part of subjective wellbeing. A better understanding of these matters will hopefully facilitate better policy interventions in the future.

This new study also complements Dr. Gang Chen’s DECRA project (DE180100647) which focused on understanding what matters the most for the general public in Australia (among them a small proportion of respondents are older adults). In collaboration with Professor Jan Abel Olsen (University of Tromsø, Norway, and Monash University) they further expand the DECRA project and are currently co-leading a multi-country ‘How Is Your Life’ study to understand the influence of COVID-19 on personal wellbeing of the general public.

Research design

An online anonymous survey will be administered to a sample of 1,000 general public aged 65 years and older in Australia. The targeting respondents will be recruited and reimbursed via a leading online fieldwork company. Respondents will provide informed consent before accessing the survey and they are free to withdraw at any time during the survey. Ethics approval has been granted by the Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee (Project ID: 24402).

The online survey contains three main sections. Section A adopts Personal Wellbeing Index (PWI) instrument to measure respondents’ own subjective well being, to what extent their lives have been influenced by the coronavirus (COVID-19), and followed by a series of pairwise choice experiments to understand older adults’ preferences among different hypothetical life circumstances, such as standard of living, health, relationships, safety, community connectedness, and future security. Section B uses a comprehensive Assessment of Quality of Life (AQoL)-8D instrument developed at the Centre for Health Economics to measure respondents’ health-related quality of life in eight dimensions, including mental health, happiness, self-worth, coping, relationships, independent living, senses, and pain. Section C asks socio-demographic characteristics. It is expected that the survey will take no more than 10-20 minutes to complete.

Potential policy implications

The outputs from this study will provide first-hand evidence for policy-makers regarding what extent the wellbeing of older adults have been influenced by the current COVID-10 outbreak, and in particular, what life circumstances have been influenced the most. The results from this study will be compared with the parallel study in the general public to explore the potential heterogeneity of older adults. The choice experiments from the hypothetical life circumstances will potentially further facilitate the prioritisation of limited public resources to more efficiently maintain or improve the wellbeing of the older adults in Australia.