Understanding the challenges of COVID-19 on older adults' participation in social and physical activities


Social isolation and physical inactivity are key issues faced by older adult populations, and both have been exacerbated as a result of COVID-19 restrictions (e.g., physical distancing, social isolation, recreational program shut-downs). The purpose of this project was to understand the changes in physical activity and social participation that adults (>65 years old) have experienced as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns, to get their perspectives on precautionary measures and alternate forms of program delivery; and to identify challenges within the recreation sector for adapting programs for older adults following COVID-19. Older adults (n=20) and program providers (n=10) were interviewed about perceived challenges to participating in activity, or providing programming to older adults during COVID-19. Six themes were identified: (1) concerns about safety and risk as a population vulnerable to COVID-19, (2) having a schedule keeps people motivated, accountable, and content, (3) living with others and willingness to try new things helped to feel resilient, (4) having accessible opportunities for activity dictated ability to cope, (5) connections have remained somewhat intact but sense of community has been lost, and (6) what does return to "normalcy" mean? Results highlighted the importance of providing programs that balance risk reduction and safety with opportunities to be active and social, having access to water-based exercise to maintain physical ability, increasing access and comfort using online programs, and fostering connection without proximity to others. Findings identify considerations for designing programming that meet the needs of older adults, and challenges to providing those services during pandemic times.

Acknowledgments: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council COVID-19 Partnership Engage Grant