How do Dutch older adults cope with COVID-19?

Globally and in The Netherlands, mitigation measures during the COVID-19 pandemic have focused on protecting older adults. Earlier disaster studies have shown the importance of including older peoples’ voices to prevent secondary stressors, yet these voices have received little attention during this pandemic. In April 2020, researchers of Leyden Academy explored how Dutch older adults view this crisis and cope with measures to contribute to our understanding of coping of older adults in general and during disaster situations more specifically. We performed a qualitative study using semi-structured telephone interviews with 59 diverse older adults aged 54 to 95, throughout the Netherlands.

Coping strategies
The researchers conclude that older adults in the Netherlands typify this crisis as ungraspable, disrupting their daily and social lives. Despite filling their lives with activities, they experience loss or lack of purpose. They try to follow measures to decrease infection risk and gain control, and use problem- and emotion-focused coping strategies. Emotion-focused strategies used were interpreting their personal vulnerability, self-enhancing comparisons, acceptance, and distraction. In the latter two strategies, the temporary nature of measures was emphasized.

Emphasis on duration
Older adults describe this crisis consistently with earlier findings from disaster studies. They use known coping strategies, but emphasize the duration in relation to their expectation of temporality. This underscores a dynamic, processual approach towards coping that incorporates temporal dimensions such as duration and order. Our findings stress the importance of acknowledging heterogeneity among older adults and adjusting communication about mitigation measures to decrease insecurity and increase resonance. This may make COVID-19 mitigation measures more manageable and age-responsible and allow older adults to resume their lives.

The article ‘Coping of Older Adults in Times of Covid-19: Considerations of Temporality Among Dutch Older Adults’ by Miriam Verhage, Lucia Thielman, Lieke de Kock, and Jolanda Lindenberg was published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences in January 2021.

For more information, please contact Jolanda Lindenberg.