Study examines impact of bushfires, Covid on older South Coast residents

Over 65s from Shoalhaven, Southern Highlands and South Coast invited to participate in health care survey

Study examines impact of bushfires, COVID-19 on older South Coast residents

The past two years have presented enormous challenges to older Australians, with the Black Summer bushfires followed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and related public health orders and lockdowns.

To better understand the impact of natural disasters and the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of older Australians, University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers are undertaking a study focused on bushfire-affected areas of south-eastern New South Wales, including the Shoalhaven, South Coast and Southern Highlands.

The researchers are inviting people aged 65 and over from those areas to take part in an online survey about their self-care during the bushfires and pandemic.

The anonymous survey takes approximately 10-15 minutes to complete and explores the factors that helped or hindered older people’s ability to look after their health during this time.

Project leaders Professor Liz Halcomb, Professor of Primary Care Nursing in UOW’s School of Nursing, and Ms Cristina Thompson, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Health Services Research Institute (AHSRI), said findings from the study will be used to develop interventions that support older people to remain independent and live longer in their local community.

“We would like to learn from your experiences about this issue so we can inform future policies, initiatives and research,” Professor Halcomb said.

“We already know that a key challenge for older people arising from COVID-19 has been the loneliness and social isolation that has occurred, with the necessary public health measures restricting movement and social gatherings.

“The challenges for older people during the bushfires included the disruption to everyday life that occurred particularly if they were forced to evacuate or leave their home.

“It is likely that some older people may have been unable to receive the usual help they may rely on from family, neighbours or community service providers and this may have had consequences for their health.”

The survey will help the research team to learn from a wide range of older people about how they managed their self-care and health during the events of the past two years. This will improve understanding of the barriers they faced to receiving primary health care.

“Many people in our region experienced catastrophic bushfires and in some cases floods in early 2019, followed closely by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ms Thompson said.

“We want to learn more about how this unique combination of events may have disrupted the ability of older people to manage their self-care and health so that we can plan for the future to better ensure that older peoples’ needs are met.”

Interested people can complete the survey here, https://tinyurl.com/UOWselfcare, or to find out more, can contact the research team by email at: [email protected]

About the research

Self-Care of Older Australians is one of 10 projects supported by the UOW Global Challenges Program‘s special research initiative “Disaster and crisis in our region“.

This study has received ethical approval (2020/413) from the UOW & ISLHD Health and Medical Human Research Ethics Committee.

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