The PlaceAge Project, which was developed from 2016 to 2019 in Brazil, shows that the concentration of the population in urban areas is high in this country. By 1945, one-third of the Brazilian population used to live in cities, but in 2019 this proportion has risen to 87%. In this context, it is necessary to guarantee healthy older adults’ lifestyle in the urban context, offering opportunities for them to feel integrated into society throughout their old age, avoiding loneliness and isolation due to physical and social urban barriers.
According to studies by ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), Latin America is one of the most ageing regions in the world. While some European countries took 150 years to adapt to the 10% to 20% increase in an older population, countries like Brazil will have to adapt in less time. One of the main findings of the UN Population Division is that developed countries first got rich and then got older while developing countries will get older in poverty. Therefore, it is not possible to apply the public ageing policies of developed countries in the most impoverished countries, which already face high social inequality between portions of the population. It is important to recognize that the needs of 90% of the Brazilian population are still concentrated at the base of Maslow’s pyramid: the physiological needs, which represent those related to the organism (such as food, sleep, shelter, water and excretion), and those of safety that they appear after the supply of physiological needs and are represented by security and stability needs (such as protection against violence, protection for health and financial resources). Within this context, the results of the PlaceAge Project indicated that in Brazil public policies for older adults should address the following themes in the following order of priority, for the development of ageing-friendly communities: (i) Health and Quality of Life; (ii) Urban Security; (iii) Memory, Identity and Sense of Place; (iv) Walkability, Mobility and Accessibility; and (v) Public Spaces, Leisure and Tourism. In all these themes, the main proposals are related to the promotion of activities of a collective nature in the neighbourhood, in order to bring people together and avoid depression and isolation. In this perspective, what to do to support older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when the general guideline is `stay at home?`.
Despite what we know about what is necessary to ensure the physical, mental and social wellbeing of the elderly population, there is no evidence exploring the impacts of sudden events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, on the lives of older people. Although it is known that older adults are more vulnerable to crisis events, such as climate change, health and humanitarian crises (Almazan et al, 2019), research is lacking to explore the impacts of pandemics on the wellbeing of older adults. The COVID-19 pandemic raised specific questions in terms of access to resources to support the physical, mental and social wellbeing of older adults, with some evidence showing that communities have adopted adaptive capacities and protection strategies, for example, volunteers and mutual aid groups to support older people. However, those who live alone or without access to these supports generally remain disconnected and isolated, particularly those without technology or digital skills (Center for Aging Better, April 2020). In response to COVID-19, several interventions have been proposed to prevent older adults from contracting the virus, including “stay at home” orders, distance and social isolation, but without exploring how it would impact daily routines, the ability to remain socially connected and receiving the health care they need (Public Health England, 2020). Worldwide measures of social distance have been implemented with varying levels of support, with economic, urban, social and cultural factors impact adherence. For example, social isolation is particularly complex in areas of high density and low-income populations such as slums in Brazil. In addition, we cannot try to simply adopt the measures to combat the pandemic, applied in rich countries, in places like Brazil, where there are no national minimum income public policies and a prolonged lockdown can lead several parcels of the population to extreme poverty. In addition, hygiene measures recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization), such as `washing your hands frequently`, become utopian in communities that do not have a sink in their homes. It is important to understand the social context of each community to propose public policies to meet their needs during and after the pandemic.
There is an urgent need to better understand the experiences of older adults living in different social contexts to produce an evidence base that can create interventions designed to support physical, mental and social wellbeing during and after pandemic events. It is important to understand how the physical, mental and social wellbeing of older adults is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in order to design socially appropriate and non-utopian urban interventions. By addressing this gap, this project seeks to better understand how the pandemic is experienced, understood and negotiated by older adults in Brazil, a country that is part of the LMICs (Low and Middle-Income Countries) and in 2021 is characterized as the global epicentre of the pandemic of the COVID-19. The Project seeks to propose urban interventions aimed at providing cities and communities that can be ageing friendly and resilient to future health and humanitarian crises.
The understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults physical, mental and social wellbeing in Brazil will allow a comparative analysis within and across different national and community contexts in terms of how institutional responses to the pandemic have affected older people. In doing so, the research offers a unique opportunity to explore how communities can be supported to address diverse social contexts and policy and practice structures in times of a pandemic.
This proposal is based on long-standing partnerships that the principal investigators have developed with academic and non-academic organizations in the UK and Brazil, exploring the relationship between ageing, urbanization and community, thus creating the institutional links to ensure the success of the research and establish impact paths.