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Alone in a pandemic : the lived experience of older adults living alone in the COVID-19 pandemic Chiang, Mindy Ming-Jung

Abstract

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted people’s lives around the world. Evidence from the early months of the pandemic indicates increased psychological distress among the public. Older adults face heightened health risks in the pandemic and may be especially susceptible to its negative psychosocial impacts. The impact of isolation due to home-confinement measures is particularly concerning for older adults. As such, a sub-group within the older adult population warrants special attention in the context of this pandemic—those living alone. Given the unprecedented scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, extant literature on the psychological impact of smaller-scale epidemics likely provides only a glimpse into its potential impact. As such, this research was an exploratory phenomenological inquiry on the lived experience of older adults living alone in the COVID-19 pandemic. van Manen’s (2016) approach to hermeneutic phenomenological research guided the data collection and analysis. In-depth interviews were conducted with 12 retired older adults (aged 65 and over) living alone in British Columbia, Canada between mid-July to early August 2020. Through thematic analysis, the phenomenon of living in the initial 4 months of the pandemic for older adults living alone was found to be evolving and multi-faceted. The multiple facets of the phenomenon were captured by 5 core themes: 1) Confronting a mysterious threat; 2) Shrinking existence; 3) Navigating a new world; 4) Recognizing older adult identity in society; and 5) Adjusting to the new normal. These core themes spoke to an experience marked by emotional distress, loss and isolation, change, ageing, and resilience. This research adds to the expanding literature on the psychosocial impacts of the pandemic by providing a rich, descriptive portrayal of the lived experience in the pandemic. Importantly, this work focused on older adults living alone, likely an overlooked group in current literature.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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