Impacts of the 2019/20 bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic on the physical and mental health of older Australians: a cross-sectional survey

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Family practice


BACKGROUND: In 2019/20 major bushfires devastated Australia's East Coast. Shortly afterward the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Older people are disproportionately affected by disasters and are at high risk from respiratory pandemics. However, little is known about how these events impact on older peoples' health and well-being and engagement with services such as primary care. OBJECTIVE: To explore the health impacts of the 2019/20 bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic on older Australians' health and well-being. METHODS: One hundred and fifty-five people aged over 65 years living in South-eastern New South Wales, Australia participated in an online survey. The survey measured the impacts of the bushfires and COVID-19 on physical and mental health and the capacity of older people to manage these impacts. RESULTS: Most respondents felt that the bushfires caused them to feel anxious/worried (86.2%) and negatively affected their physical (59.9%) and mental (57.2%) health. While many participants had similar feelings about COVID-19, significantly fewer felt these physical and mental health impacts than from the bushfires. A significantly greater perceived level of impact was observed for females and those with health problems. More respondents described negative mental health than physical health effects. Those who felt more impacted by the events had lower levels of resilience, social connection and support, and self-rated health. CONCLUSION: The health impacts identified in this study represent an opportunity for primary care to intervene to both ensure that people with support needs are identified and provided timely support and that older people are prepared for future disasters.

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