If you look solely at public health statistics, 2020 was a devastating year for a large number of Australians aged over 50.
As of 15 December, the pandemic had claimed 908 Australian lives, of which only five were not over the age of 50. Some 820 of these fatalities were in Victoria.
But statistics, read in isolation, can be deceiving.
While the human cost of COVID-19 was tragic and horrifying, there were also significant positives to emerge from wreckage.
In fact, 2020 was a year when Australia’s over 50s illustrated their resilience and ability to use humour, fun and friendship to not just survive but also thrive.
Like the old saying goes - it was the worst of years...and the best of years.
Our coverage of the crisis
Downsizing.com.au covered all aspects of COVID-19 and how it affected over 50s, particularly in regard to retirement living.
We focussed on the human stories showing how people living independently in retirement villages and land lease communities were coping with the ordeal.
Ironically, many of these residents are likely to have fond memories of the period.
For instance, in April, Downsizing.com.au brought you the story of 91-year-old Victorian retirement village resident Peter Weste, who penned a letter to a national newspaper complaining there was too much “doom and gloom” around COVID.
The way Mr Weste saw it, during COVID-19 Australians had an abundance of ways to keep entertained and connected, which did not exist during the Great Depression.
"My old labrador still smiles at me and I may even get around to reading War And Peace, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for years,” Mr Weste wrote.
Also in April, Downsizing.com.au wrote about how residents living in downsizing communities came together to support each other during the crisis, including through leaving food on neighbours’ doorsteps and checking up on older singles.
Community operators also came to the party, organising fun socially-distanced events such as balcony bingo and corridor singalongs. We published a popular video on these events, which can be look at below:
The irony of the year was that, despite being most at risk from coronavirus, older Australians were found to be far more positive about the impacts of COVID-19 and had higher levels of emotional resilience compared to young people.
In fact, according to a survey published in April, nearly half of over 75s and 38 per cent of Baby Boomers said the coronavirus crisis would in fact give them “more time to do what I enjoy”.
As living with COVID-19 moved from Winter to Spring, it became clear that the pandemic would be likely to lead to significant changes in the housing and lifestyle decisions of over 50s.
Downsizing.com.au launched a reader survey in April 2020, to seek to discover whether the pandemic was changing the downsizing and retirement plans of over 50s. We published the survey results in a research paper in November 2020.
One important change was that COVID-19 appeared to have educated consumers about the disadvantages of being isolated in their existing neighbourhood and conversely the benefits of living with friends and community managers in a dedicated downsizing development.
At the same time, it also helped to differentiate between institutional living in an aged care facility and independent living in a retirement community.
Another change was that downsizers had become more footloose and were increasingly being attracted to areas which have been less impacted by COVID-19, such as regional areas, or wanted to move closer to family and friends.
All up, our survey found that around one in three over 50s said they were more likely to downsize because of COVID-19.
As the year drew to a close, and lockdowns and State border closures eased as the worst of the crisis passed - the mood turned from apprehension to optimism.
During October-December, downsizers in fact found themselves in a commanding marketplace position to sell their home, due to the strong market for detached houses as against residential apartments.
In addition, there was positive news that the pandemic had triggered children and parents to increasingly come together and discuss the retirement plans of the parents.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Across 2020, and irrespective of the unusual nature of the year, Downsizing.com.au has enjoyed bringing you all the stories that mattered from the over 50s housing industry.
We hope all our readers are able to enjoy a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas and New Year period. After a short break, we’ll be back again in early January.
Mark Skelsey, Editor, Downsizing.com.au