Behavioural & Cognitive Sciences

How confinement measures and their communication impact elders

Since the start of the health crisis, people over the age of 60 have been omnipresent in the media, portrayed as a "risk group". Even though older people might have a higher risk when affected by Covid-19, considering them as one homogeneous group would be a mistake. The CRISIS research project, supported by the FNR (Luxembourg National Research Fund) and carried out in collaboration with RBS-Center fir Altersfroen, looks at the impact of aging stereotypes on psychological well-being and health-related outcomes in older Luxembourgers.

For the past few weeks, we have observed that the media consider everyone over the age of 60 to be a homogeneous group of vulnerable people. However, whereas older age goes along with a higher probability of underlying health conditions, there are people who are past this age and still in good physical condition and healthy, explains Dr. Isabelle Albert, who initiated the project. She adds, "The communication around the need to protect seniors is somewhat discriminatory. They are depicted as a passive and problematic group in need of help, incapable of acting for themselves."

These messages without any nuances hammered through newspapers, radio and television are not without effects. “This generalization can have consequences on health behaviors and decision-making of older people. An independent person can no longer dare to leave their home and become completely dependent for fear of the virus. On the other hand, someone feeling young and in good shape, may take more risks, thinking that she is not part of the risk group with which she does not identify, " explains Isabelle Albert. If and how age stereotypes affect older people depends for example on the availability of social comparison processes, age-related experiences and self-perception (e.g. Ferring & Hoffmann, 2007). 

The right balance and nuances are necessary for effective communication in times of health crisis. It is precisely to better understand how containment measures and their communication affect people over 60 years of age that Isabelle Albert and her colleagues launch the "CRISIS" project.

Understanding the mid-term consequences 

With the support of TNS Ilres, the researchers will conduct surveys with the target group online or by telephone call. Dr. Albert explains: "We want to reach all people, those who use the internet, but also those who have more trouble with technology". She adds: “We will carry out a first data collection in June and a second one in September. Thus, we will gain insights into the medium and longer term consequences of the corona crisis and its impact on older people”.

As the study is focusing on Luxembourg, the researchers hope to compare the data according to the nationalities of the respondents "It may be that a person whose family is domiciled abroad is already more used to remote communication and may have found it easier to adjust to the lockdown situation”, explains the researcher. “As people living in an institution have experienced very strict measures, even a total ban on visits, we will also compare the experiences of people living in nursing homes and those who are independently at home."

Improve communication in case of a second wave

A second wave of the epidemic is not yet ruled out. Insights of the CRISIS project can inform responses, help develop policies targeting persons considered at risk and ensure better communication about the population at risk, ensuring also compliance with measures proposed. Importantly, the project will provide knowledge to reduce the negative side effects of preventive measures for the long-term independence, health and well-being of the elderly. In addition the results will help prepare responses for possible future pandemic waves.

In collaboration with the RBS – Center fir Altersfroen: Dr. Martine Hoffmann

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