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Older South Australians more concerned about the nation than themselves

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Older South Australians are most concerned about the nation’s health rather than their own vulnerabilities to COVID-19, according to research from local social enterprise The Plug-in.

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Findings in the state-wide survey showed the older population was most concerned about the virus’s impact on the economy, with 90 per cent nominating this as their chief concern.

This was followed by the capacity of health services and hospitals to deal with those affected, at 78 per cent.

General manager of Council on the Ageing (COTA) SA Miranda Starke said the survey of a cross-section of about 300 older South Australians recorded the level of concern from respondents in catching the virus themselves was about 52 per cent.

“The findings are not too dissimilar to what we found around bushfires,” said Starke, who leads The Plug-in enterprise for COTA.

“We’ve found they have higher levels of concern for their friends and family and higher levels for older people generally, with the highest concern for the nation overall.

“I think it’s the same sentiment and the same spirit that leads to older people being the absolute lifeblood of volunteering in our community.”

COTA SA started The Plug-in three years ago and is the only council on the ageing in Australia with a social enterprise model designed to keep the state at the forefront of ensuring its older demographic has a strong community voice.

Its latest insights into coronavirus will be shared with decision-makers, including findings that showed only three per cent of respondents were wearing a face mask but 93 per cent have increased hand-washing.

Starke said The Plug-in included people with a wide range of ages and socio-economic backgrounds, with experienced social researchers working within the team.

The over 50s “influencers” group also provides insights around products and services – from barbecues to health policy.

Starke said it was important to capture the opinions of over 633,000 of South Australians in the older demographic, in an overall state population of 1.677 million.

Another recent survey gauged how the bushfire crisis – that saw large swathes of the state in the Adelaide Hills region and Kangaroo Island devastated by fire – was affecting older people.

The Plug-in team members (from left) Rachael Nielsen, Tegan Syrus and Miranda Starke.

Starke said its findings showed many older members of the community, including those who had lost their own homes in the fires, were strong in numbers among those volunteering to help.

Another project involving the University of Adelaide’s nursing school and funded by the Hospital Research Foundation was in the second stage of exploring how the state could improve outcomes of older people returning home after unexpected hospital visits.

Starke said this could include patients falling over, experiencing heart attacks or strokes, and then returning to their homes.

“It is looking at the level of understanding between the hospital or GP and family members, communication and coordination is a key factor in whether there’s a successful return to the community,” she said.

“From the first stage we completed over a year, what’s really clear is that a lot of older people when they come out of hospital…… often aren’t clear about what they do next.”

The Plug-in has worked on 27 projects in the past three years using focus groups, workshops, in-depth interviews and surveys to ensure the opinions of the state’s older demographic was taken into account.

One project involved the barbecue company Weber to explore how older customers accessed marketing and what they looked for in a barbecue product.

COTA would report snapshot findings on three projects – COVID-19, bushfire responses and a technology survey – to its community next week.

“The Plug-in is the only one of its kind run by the council of the ageing in Australia. It’s a South Australian initiative and we’ve used it to help other chapters,” Starke said.

“Some agencies do research and surveys and insights but there are no other initiatives like this nationally specialising in older people at that really grass root level, we have the opportunity to go into homes, residential care, although COVID-19 has changed some of that.”

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