Greater insight into how the needs of older people can be met in spatial and social planning2023-03-23
The COVID-19 pandemic brought many great challenges for older people in their daily lives. In the study “Nowhere to go – Effects on elderly’s travel during COVID-19”, researchers focus on older people's travel experiences during the pandemic.
In order to gain a deeper understanding of older people’s thoughts and feelings in relation to their means to travel and participate in activities during the pandemic, Katrin Lättman, Senior Lecturer and Docent in Psychology at the University of Gävle, together with Lars E. Olsson and Margareta Friman, both from the Service Research Center (CTF) at Karlstad University, conducted the study “Nowhere to go – Effects on elderly’s travel during COVID-19”. The research project that was carried out when the pandemic was still ongoing.
- This was a special project given that we began our study in connection with the pandemic, says Katrin Lättman. Given the situation, it was very difficult to know what to expect. Older people became an even more important group to reach out to and to gain knowledge and understanding about. Not only do they constitute a vulnerable group, they were also initially very affected by the restrictions.
Since there was a lack of knowledge about the experiences of the slightly “older elderly” in everyday travel, it was important for the researchers to include this group in the project. They decided to do a more in-depth study in the form of interviews.
- We limited our selection to older people over 70 since there is more knowledge available about “younger elderly” from 60 and up - including newly retired people, says Katrin Lättman. The aim was to gain a broader understanding of how older people experience available means to travel in everyday life from a psychological perspective. The participants were between 70 and 96 years of age.
Katrin Lättman argues that the project and the findings are important since knowledge about the oldest elderly are lacking in evaluations and the planning of how our societies and transport systems should be designed. The outbreak of the pandemic made it even more relevant to focus on this group.
- We had no idea how long the pandemic would last or how serious it would become. It also turned out that this uncertainty created a lot of anxiety among older people. Not only did they have to deal with not being able to travel in the present moment - not being able to travel to various everyday activities in the long term was a terrifying thought to many of them. And the fear of being too old or powerless when the pandemic was over was something that also came up in many of the interviews.
Were there any positive insights that emerged from your study?
- Yes, quite a few actually, says Katrin Lättman. Many of the participants in the study were able to find new ways to maintain social contacts that were very important to them. At the same time, several of them expressed sadness that there was nothing to travel to, even though they had created solutions to get around in different ways - for example, by buying a bicycle or relying on family and friends to drive them to different places.
In what way will the project contribute with new knowledge to CTF?
- CTF has been significant factor in research on sustainable travel for a long time and the insights that we gained through this study contribute to the broad foundation of knowledge that exists within CTF. We have close collaboration with various actors in society and many of our research findings have therefore spread and are now being used and applied in practice as well. Our study shows the importance of highlighting and including various psychological and individual factors that are not brought to light in other ways - for example, in evaluations and planning of sustainable societies “for everyone”, in other words, older people as well. A clear insight is the importance of promoting older people’s opportunities to engage in social interactions. The importance of being involved in social interaction in everyday life became painfully clear to older people when this was significantly reduced during the pandemic.
Do you think that there is a clear public benefit with your study?
- Yes, the study highlights the importance of including all age groups in the development of a sustainable transport system and, above all, we need to make use of and create opportunities for social inclusion for older people in everyday life. A lot of older people still find public transport difficult to use for various reasons - for example, with new technology in the form of ticket systems or apps for smart phones - and even if it is not completely new knowledge, it is important to note that these obstacles remain for older people’s opportunities to travel freely.