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Impact of COVID-19 on Indonesia’s elderly

The impacts of the pandemic have been more severe for the elderly in Indonesia, with both rural and urban residents facing hardship
An elderly woman waits for free COVID-19 vaccination in West Java, Indonesia

A recent report by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), based on a countrywide survey of 3,500 elderly people in Indonesia found that COVID-19 had a wide-ranging impact on the elderly. “The persistent epidemic in the country, and the pandemic in the global sense, have pushed Indonesia into recession for the first time since the 1998 Asian financial crisis,” said Professor Hidetoshi Nishimura, President, ERIA.

As in most parts of the world, the underprivileged and the elderly are at the receiving end of this pandemic. According to Mr Nishimura, “Indonesia is the country most affected by COVID-19 amongst the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, in terms of the number of confirmed cases and deaths. Indonesia’s older population has much higher COVID-19 fatality rates than younger generations. This trend is common all over the world…COVID-19 is seriously affecting people’s health status, social interactions and economic activities – particularly underprivileged people, including many older people.”

The economic impact

Some key observations that emerged from the study are that one out of two elderly people experienced a decline in their income during the pandemic. Caregivers were also impacted (household/non-household member) as their income had significantly decreased. As much as 61% of the respondents (caregivers) agreed that their incomes decreased as a result of COVID-19.

Exhibit 1: Income changes of older people and their caregivers during the pandemic

The elderly residing in rural areas experienced a significant decrease in their income in comparison to elderly people living in urban areas. Nearly 68% of the surveyed respondents from rural areas agreed with this. Same was the case with caregivers in rural areas, with about 79% seeing a decrease in income.

The respondents who faced a decrease in their incomes had to change their food consumption habits. About 42% of the surveyed respondents reduced the quality of meals, and 17% reduced the frequency of meals.

Exhibit 2: Impact of income changes on food consumption

Although most of the elderly who faced an income decrease during the pandemic did not take any action to cope with it, the rest did take some steps to improve their economic condition. Almost 18% of the respondents asked for assistance from family or community members with better economic conditions.

Exhibit 3: Types of assistance received by respondents during the pandemic

More than half received non-cash food assistance (sembako) since March 2020 from the Indonesian government. This assistance was mostly prevalent in urban areas (58%). Private companies, community members and NGOs also came forward to assist the elderly in this time of need (38%).

Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of the surveyed respondents did not receive any type of assistance from either the government, companies, individuals or community members.

Impacts on healthy ageing

The pandemic also had a deteriorating impact on the health of the elderly in Indonesia. Around 16% reported that their health condition has deteriorated during the pandemic. Respondents from rural areas were more likely to report a deterioration in their health condition than their urban counterparts.

Exhibit 4: Respondents who reported their health condition deteriorated during the pandemic

Moreover, the survey also found that about 25% of the respondents’ depression scores increased in comparison to the pre-pandemic period. The elderly took to exercising outdoors (53%), sunbathing (56%) and ing an active lifestyle (56%) to maintain physical health during the pandemic. And for maintaining mental health, most (67%) resorted to praying.

Only a small percentage of respondents (11%) had difficulty in accessing healthcare facilities during the pandemic. The lack of access to healthcare facilities impacted the urban elderly (12%) more than their rural counterparts (4%).

Exhibit 5: Respondents who had difficulty accessing health facilities during the pandemic

About 45% of the respondents cited fear and worry, while 28% cited closed facilities and no entry of older patients as two of the main reasons for having difficulty in accessing healthcare services during the pandemic.

Interruptions of social interactions

Social distancing measures and prolonged lockdowns had astonishingly less impact on social interactions of the elderly with their relatives, friends and neighbours during the pandemic. Only 5% said they did not interact during the pandemic, while nearly 82% continued meeting in person.

Exhibit 6: Social relations with relatives/friends/neighbours during the pandemic

Future recommendations

Going forward, the economic and social support provided to the elderly will need to continue even post-pandemic. Certain areas such as lack of access to quality food, proper healthcare facilities and social interactions of the elderly need to be looked into to minimise the negative impacts of the pandemic on older people.

More crises will occur in the future but we can “overcome such crises by exerting our wisdom, solidarity and resilience,” said Mr Nishimura.

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