Social connectedness among older people during Covid-19
Professor Merryn Gott, University of Auckland, School of Nursing
Having conducted research focused on older people for over 20 years, Professor Merryn Gott’s work shows a passionate belief in the need for a greater quality of palliative and end- of-life care both within NZ and globally. With the sudden life-changing restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 threat and national lockdown, many of our elderly now face another threat entirely, beyond that of the disease itself. Professor Gott believes it is vitally important that we do not underestimate the impact of prolonged social isolation on the elderly.
“Older people have been identified as the group most vulnerable to Covid-19 and subject to particular restrictions. However whilst this strategy will hopefully protect them physically, the potential for a second wave of harm relating to increased levels of social isolation and loneliness has been identified,” the University of Auckland Nursing professor says.
“This matters because loneliness has a similar impact upon health as smoking or obesity. How people over 70 comply with anticipated long-term restrictions will also be contingent on their response to public health and media messaging. This currently remains unknown, as do their experiences of the lockdown period.
“Our findings will place the voices and experiences of culturally diverse older people at the centre of public health responses to Covid-19. We are partnering with Age Concern NZ who will use the findings immediately to inform their work across the country, as will other key stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health,” explained Merryn, driven by a need to support all older New Zealanders and their families.
“My motivation is to conduct high quality research which makes a real difference to individuals, their families and whanau and our wider communities. In particular, I want lived experience to be at the heart of decisions which affect people's lives.”
Professor Gott approaches her work through a social justice lens and is particularly interested in understanding the views and experiences of people at risk of social exclusion.
“This project is a continuation of a more than 20 year effort to enable older people's diverse views and experiences to inform efforts to support them which, although well-meaning, can often be paternalistic and ageist.
I am excited by the idea of creating an archive to tell the Covid-19 stories of people over 70 both as a means of informing activities now, but also as a lasting legacy so future generations can better understand this unique point in the history of Aotearoa, New Zealand.”
Professor Gott is director of Te Arai Palliative Care and End of Life Research Group, and has published over 200 papers in peer reviewed journals as well as a number of books. The calibre of her work is widely acknowledged and she was awarded the New Zealand Association of Scientists’ Research Medal in 2014 , followed by being named the NEXT Woman of the Year for Health and Science in 2016. Last year, Professor Gott was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Te Apārangi.
AMRF have awarded Professor Gott and her research team $98,257 to research the mental health impact of isolation on the elderly. The team is partnering with Age Concern and the Ministry of Health to immediately inform their work.