Gail and Charles Shields keep in contact with family by FaceTime. (Photo: Emma Gillman)

Fearful and isolated: life under Covid-19 for elderly Australians

Life in the northern Sydney retirement village where 76-year-old Margie lives with her husband, Terry, used to be full of social events and community activities.

“We have monthly events like a Friday night BBQ, a happy hour, and craft [sessions]. They have all been cancelled,” she says.

“We have no functions on this month at all.

“Our library, kitchen, meeting rooms… all of our public gathering spaces have been closed.”

Elderly Australians are one of the groups most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and by the restrictions that have been placed on daily life to slow the virus’s spread.

Not only are they among the people most vulnerable to serious illness if they get infected, but they are unable to see family members, including grandchildren, unless they live with them.

Many aged care facilities and nursing homes have banned visitors altogether, leaving residents isolated from their families. Others have imposed strict restrictions, in line with government advice.

Margie and Terry enjoyed socialising with friends at their village, and are frustrated by the social distancing restrictions.

Elderly Australians are increasingly isolated (Photo: David Sinclair, Unsplash)

The government has urged people over 70 to self-isolate “to the maximum extent practicable”. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this was “for their own protection, to limit their interaction with others in the community”.

Where aged care facilities do permit visits, the advice is that they should be kept short, involve no more than two visitors at a time, occur in a resident’s room (or outdoors) rather than a communal area, and not entail group visits or social activities.

Gail Shields, 73, who lives in an apartment in Bondi Junction, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, with her partner, Charles, says: “I’m worried about getting sick.

“I’ve tried my best to stay inside at all times and have been sure to ration out the minimal groceries I purchased before this began.

“But I’m worried that I’ll run out of food, and I haven’t worked out how to do the groceries online yet.”

When she has needed to replenish supplies, Shields has been shopping at Coles during the hour reserved for older Australians, between 7-8am.

“I was a bit slow finding things because they did have empty shelves. And I was still there when 8 o’ clock came and masses of people came like an avalanche, so I had to get out quick.”

Shields is keeping her spirits up by doing jigsaw puzzles, exercising at home, and keeping up with family and friends by phone, including FaceTime.

“I used to play bridge with my friends four times a week to keep social, and now we have finally found a way to play together online.

“It’s been like exploring a whole new world. Even a little fun.”