Coronavirus: Elderly handling the loneliness of lockdown better than their grandkids - survey

Elderly couple
The elderly appear to be handling the lockdown best, from a mental health perspective. Photo credit: Getty

The country's elderly population appear to be handling the isolation and loneliness of the pandemic lockdown better than their grandkids.

Despite being most at risk of complications or death if they catch COVID-19, a new survey has found those aged 65 and older are far less likely to report feeling lonely. 

On a scale of one to 10, slightly more than a third of people aged 65 or older told Horizon Research they rated their loneliness a zero - compared to only 4 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds.

"This isolation is causing a bigger anguish among people who are younger," said Horizon spokesperson Graeme Colman.

"When we look at people who are isolated and lonely, we think of the older age group, but [studies here and overseas show] it is the younger group usually feeling the most isolated and lonely." 

A third of 18- to 24-year-olds reported their loneliness under lockdown at eight or higher, compared to only 5 percent of people 75 and older. 

The lockdown, introduced in late March, aims to prevent the spread of the virus behind COVID-19, which has killed more than 160,000 people worldwide and 11 Kiwis. It appears to be working, with the number of new infections each day plummeting in the past couple of weeks and New Zealand being held up worldwide as an example to follow. 

The Government on Monday afternoon will reveal if we'll stay at level 4 - the most restrictive - for longer, or if we'll drop to level 3 soon. While still quite restrictive, under level 3 some kids will be able to return to school and more businesses will be allowed to operate - National Party MP Judith Collins last week described level 3 as "a lot like level 4 but with KFC". 

The resumption of schools and some workplaces will be a relief for stressed parents and those on low incomes, said Colman. 

"This isolation is causing a bigger anguish among people who are younger, people on lower incomes and people who are the sole parent with two, three or more children... We've got hundreds of thousands telling us they're not sure about their jobs and their incomes... that could also affect the degree of stress people are feeling." 

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said many still won't be able to return to work however, and some would have lost their jobs already.

"All of those pressures are building, and level 3 is more of the same for many people, and I guess adds to that worry, that concern, that anger for people who might have small businesses or are wanting to get back to work, but aren't able to."

Colman said Horizon's polling also showed there was a "huge majority" of Kiwis in favour of the restrictions.

"But part of the price for that is about 6 to 7 percent of adults are suffering isolation and loneliness to such a degree they want extra help to cope with it."

Robinson, who is bi-polar himself and sought help via the during the lockdown via the Ministry of Health's Telehealth service, said going to level 3 won't help assuage many people's anxieties. 

"It raises another set of questions and potential anxieties for people. While it's clear New Zealand has done extremely well combating COVID-19, we're not out of the woods yet."

He had some advice for others not coping well - including that they're not alone.

"It's natural to have some anxious feelings during this pandemic. Do things that keep us connected to other people, practise kindness wherever we can... keep some exercise, some movement of your body happening in your life, because that does affect your thoughts and feelings. It boosts your mental health and wellbeing. Keep your mind active... keep learning things. And take some time to really chill out and notice the little things that make us happy."