COVID pandemic forced many older adults to become tech savvy, rely on themselves

NEW YORK — When times are tough, sometimes the only person you can rely on is yourself. A new study finds over half of older adults in the U.S. say the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to be more self-sufficient.

The survey of 2,000 Americans over the age of 57 reveals 56 percent believe they’ve become more independent over the past year. Seven in 10 expect these newfound feelings of self-sufficiency to last moving forward.

Researchers also delved into what’s contributing to this feeling and finds that having to figure out new technology is playing a big role. Fifty-eight percent said technology allowed them to stay in touch with family and friends during COVID. Another 55 percent added figuring out new tech allowed them to have essential items delivered.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of the YMCA, the survey finds this ability to use technology is especially important during the pandemic, for more than just the obvious reasons.

Tech as a mental health tool?

Self Sufficiency COVIDIn addition to using technology simply to communicate with relatives and order deliveries, 63 percent of older adults said it helped curb 2020’s negative impact on their overall health and well-being. In fact, 56 percent said learning how to use technology stopped them from feeling lonely.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the pandemic had no impact at all on older adults. Researchers also asked respondents which aspect of their health — physical, mental, or social — COVID-19 is impacting the most. Sixty-two percent said their mental health took the biggest hit.

However, many of those older adults turned to hobbies (63%), socially-distanced visits with friends and family (44%), and exercise (44%) to help boost their mental health. Nearly one in three (31%) said, of the three different aspects of their overall health, maintaining their mental health will be their top priority moving forward.

“The uncertainty, isolation and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have had a devastating impact on the mental and physical health of so many people, especially older adults who were at heightened risk for serious complications from COVID,” says Kevin Washington, president and CEO, YMCA of the USA, in a statement. “As communities begin to recover from this extraordinary time, one of the Y’s top priorities will be helping people who experienced hardships during the pandemic reclaim their health.”

Vaccinations providing a sense of normalcy

Self Sufficiency COVIDRespondents believe they’ll feel safe returning to their normal routine and pre-pandemic life within two months of receiving their COVID vaccine. For those planning to get their shot, 52 percent are most looking forward to taking care of their loved ones again. Older adults also can’t wait to attend social gatherings (39%) and see their relatives in person (37%).

More than half of respondents who plan to receive the vaccine add they plan to return to their health club or community center afterwards. Forty-two percent of these Americans plan on going a few times a week. Those respondents rated socializing with other members and staff as the top thing they’re looking forward to after returning. Attending group exercise classes and attending healthy living programs and workshops followed closely behind.

If the past year has a silver lining, 54 percent of older Americans said they feel closer to their neighbors because of the pandemic. The same number added that the pandemic ultimately helped to strengthen their local community.

“Whether in times of crisis or times of stability, trusted community-based organizations like the Y always are focused on making sure our neighbors have access to the support and resources they need to live a healthy life and move their communities forward,” Washington says.