People aged 60-plus are more susceptible to getting sick with COVID-19. (ABC News: Natasha Johnson)
Social isolation is proving one of the toughest challenges for some older Australians at high risk of coronavirus.
- Retirement village residents live in their own units, with many still driving and some holding down part-time work
- People aged 60-plus are much more susceptible to getting sick with COVID-19
- Residents villages are encouraged not to have grandchildren visit and to abide by social distancing
For those living in retirement villages, it is often their social life that gives them connection — but under COVID-19, all that is changing.
The Village retirement group, which houses 2,000 residents in South East Queensland, said in a statement on Thursday its facilities had entered a voluntary and pre-emptive lockdown from 6:00am Friday.
The group said there were no COVID-19 cases at any of their five facilities, but no external visitors would be allowed, and the gates would be staffed to monitor and stop movement.
Former senior Queensland public servant Sir Leo Hielscher, a long-time resident at the Yeronga Retirement Village in Brisbane, said it was miserable.
“It feels like a prison,” he said.
Sir Leo was Queensland’s under-treasurer for 14 years until 1988, then spent 19 years as chairman of the Queensland Treasury Corporation, before he retired in 2010.
In 2010, the Gateway Bridge and its newly constructed duplicate were renamed the Sir Leo Hielscher Bridges.
Up until recently the 93-year-old had been busy promoting a revamped Bradfield Scheme to drought-proof Queensland’s north to all levels of government.
“No-one is interested in the scheme at the moment — it is all coronavirus” Sir Leo said.
“I am trying to observe all the rules and agree they are necessary, but it is lonely.
“Before this all happened very rarely would a 5 o’clock pass without someone phoning to say: ‘I’m just taking the top off the scotch bottle — would you come up?'”
Risk of serious illness or death increases with age
Sir Leo’s grandchildren cannot visit and he said he was not used to staying in.
“There are hundreds of residents here with an OBE — over bloody 80 — and if one of them gets the virus, the place will be in total shutdown,” he said.
“There will be a riot.”
Queensland Health said people aged 60-plus were much more susceptible to getting sick with COVID-19.
The risk of serious illness and/or death increases with age, particularly for those with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems.
The advice is to stay home, and contact family and friends via phone and video calls.
All deaths in Australia so far have been people aged in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
Fellow residents at Yeronga Retirement Village, Kath Coates and her husband Peter, said they believed they were managing and felt lucky.
“We are being very careful and sensible — observing all the rules,” she said.
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Before the pre-emptive lockdown, management at the village had instituted a raft of changes from closing the gym, pool and library, to removing chairs and tables at the cafe to ensure social distancing.
“It is hard, but everyone is in the same boat,” Mrs Coates said.
At retirement villages, residents live in their own units, still drive and hold down part-time work. (ABC News: Emily Piesse)
Alla Brunckhorst, 85, was meant to be on tour in Japan this week but had to cancel.
Before the lockdown, Ms Brunckhorst said she was still going for walks, meeting her daughter and playing bowls so it was “not really isolation”.
She said she was determined to live life as normally as possible.
“I do not feel I should become a hermit,” she said.
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‘Quiet level of optimism’
Village manager Kath Gilhooley said most residents were reassured by the proactive measures that had been taken, saying they had gone above and beyond the requirements.
The cafeteria was no longer sit-in and now only served takeaway, and there was no longer bridge or mah-jong activities.
Crosses have been placed on the floor to denote social distancing and meals were no longer served in the dining room but delivered to the unit.
“I believe our residents have a quiet level of optimism that we will get through this together,” Ms Gilhooley said.
Manager Kath Gilhooley demonstrates proper social distancing with residents. (ABC News: Curtis Rodda)
The requirements surrounding aged-care facilities are much stricter and governed by the Commonwealth.
They are in lockdown, with only two visitors allowed at any one time, with no children under the age of 16.
Regis Aged Care has gone further — allowing no visitors unless in exceptional circumstances.
At retirement villages, residents live independently in their own units, with many still driving and some holding down part-time work.
Residents have been encouraged not to have grandchildren visit and to abide by the latest updates on social distancing.
Mick Tierney, 72, lives solo and does not consider himself vulnerable.
“I think what we have been doing here is sensible — no point in getting worried — if it happens, it happens,” Mr Tierney said.
Support is being provided to some residents who are in isolation after overseas trips.
At retirement villages, residents live independently in their own units. (ABC News: John Gunn)