"We have become prisoners of our own age": From a continuing care retirement community to a total institution in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak

Liat Ayalon, Sharon Avidor
Age and Ageing 2021 January 22

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: During the COVID-19 pandemic in Israel, people residing in continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) found themselves under strict instructions to self-isolate, imposed by the CCRC managements before, during, and after the nationwide lockdown. The present study explored the personal experiences of CCRC residents during the lockdown.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS: In-depth interviews were conducted with 24 CCRC residents from 13 different CCRCs. Authors performed a thematic analysis of interview transcripts, using constant comparisons and contrasts.

RESULTS: Three major themes were identified: a).

US VS. THEM: OTHERS ARE WORSE OFF Older residents engaged in constant attempts to compare their situation to that of others. The overall message behind these downward comparisons was that the situation is not so bad, as others are in a worse predicament; b).

US VS. THEM: POWER IMBALANCE This comparison emphasized the unbalanced power-relations between older adults and the staff and management in the setting; and c).

“WE HAVE BECOME PRISONERS OF OUR OWN AGE.”: Interviewees described strong emotions of despair, depression and anger, which were intensified when the rest of society returned back to a new routine, while they were still under lockdown.

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS: The measures imposed on residents by managements of CCRCs during the lockdown, and the emotional responses of distress among some of the residents, revealed that CCRCs have components of total institutions, not normally evident. This underscores the hidden emotional costs of the lockdown among those whose autonomy was compromised.

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