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Shaping the future

The National Seniors Social Survey is coming! It's your chance to make the changes you want to see. How does it work?

  • Summer 2020
  • Research
  • Read Time: 8 mins

The National Seniors Social Survey (NSSS) has been running for eight years and helps us provide valuable information to government and policy makers about what’s important to you and all older Australians. Of course, we couldn’t do it without your generous support and participation. Over the next few weeks, an online link will be available through our communication channels so you can take part. 

You may notice that some sections are repeated from previous years’ surveys. That is because we are keen to discover aspects of your lives that have been affected by the pandemic. Your responses will provide important insights into how we will advocate seniors’ needs as we adapt to living with COVID-19 in the community. The NSSS is the main survey run by National Seniors but we also conduct smaller surveys throughout the year.

The survey findings are the basis for our publicly available research reports. They also help inform our advocacy campaigns, address issues such as climate change, and highlight how diverse groups experience ageing.

Living with COVID-19

Key Points

  • This graphic shows who responded to the Living with COVID Survey (T1= first questionnaire, T2= second questionnaire)
  • This year, we conducted two social surveys
  • 2,281 responses across the two surveys were received
  • The concern ranked highest across both surveys was “the economy in general”, with over 85 per cent being either very or somewhat worried

Earlier in the year, we designed a survey aiming to capture seniors’ experiences of the changing restrictions as COVID cases declined in June. The survey covered people’s feelings across four topics: Daily life; Relationships; Money and Finances; and Health. 

As cases began to increase again in July, especially in Victoria, the research team reached out to seniors and asked them to do exactly the same survey again. This allowed us to report real time changes in people’s experiences and concerns. 

Survey questions were presented online to members as multiple choice options via our communication channels. We received an impressive total of 2,281 responses across the two surveys. People were asked to rate their level of concern, or worry, across aspects of their life during the pandemic. These included “going on holidays as planned”, “helping your parents”, or “the economy in general". 

We know that people’s experiences are much richer than can be expressed by ticking a box, so each survey section had an additional text option that allowed people to explain their answers more fully.

Survey questions were presented online to members as multiple-choice options via our communication channels. We received an impressive total of 2,281 responses across the two surveys.

An impressive response

Top COVID issues for seniors

The concern you ranked highest across both surveys was “the economy in general”, with over 85 per cent of you being either very or somewhat worried.

The value of investments, minimising risk of infection and visiting loved ones in residential aged care were the other top ranked issues at both times. Technology use and accessing supplies were of least concern. 

In the second questionnaire, Victorians said that being with grandchildren and getting together with family became more important. This reflected Victoria’s more stringent restrictions on movement and socialising.

"Australian seniors are remarkably resilient in adjusting and adapting to living with COVID-19..."

A tough breed

Changes to concerns over time

As Australia faced a potential second lockdown in July, more people became concerned about “getting back to regular activity” and “going on holidays as planned". 

A consistent concern for 50 per cent of people was finding reliable information about the restrictions and how they applied to seniors: 

"There is very little up to date info on whether older/vulnerable people should continue to stay at home and go out only for essential activities, limit interaction with people etc. It is confusing whether it is safe for older/vulnerable people to resume normal life, and is it safe for predominantly senior organisations to return to regular meetings or activities."


Maintaining relationships as cases increased again became more concerning. The proportion who were very or somewhat concerned about getting together with family increased by 20 percent during the survey period. Overall, visiting loved ones in aged care was the top priority across both surveys with proportions of people being concerned or very concerned increased from 63 percent at Survey 1 to 75 per cent at Survey 2. Comments describing the experiences of aged care residents being cut off from family and friends are a poignant reminder of people’s pain, anger and frustration during this time.

"I live in Queensland and my father in Canberra passed away during the pandemic. My sons and I were unable to visit him due to aged care facility restrictions until he was dying. How is that fair? I loved my dad and his grandsons loved him too. He was proud to serve the Australian public and was even awarded the Public Service Medal for his work for Australians. How was he repaid by an uncaring society that treats people in aged care like they have no rights and no value?"

"A friend in his late 60s lives in a supported residential home because he has a disability and needs help with cooking and cleaning. But he is able to go out, is very active socially and has a number of volunteer roles. He has been locked in the home since March, not allowed to leave or have visitors. Not even allowed to walk around the private grounds on sunny days. I know they are keeping him virus-free but his mental state at the moment is dreadful. If he tries to raise this with the staff the responses are condescending and dismissive. I don't know how-to help and as I write this I am crying…"

Money and finances

Although 85 per cent of people were concerned about the economy across both surveys, the proportion who were ‘very concerned' jumped from 46 per cent in June to nearly 60 per cent by August. The economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating and distressing for seniors. Many of you have told us you have less income, less financial security and less time to recoup economic losses compared to other age-groups. Approximately seven out of 10 people were concerned about the value of investments and managing long term with money.

"I am almost completely dependent on the dividends from myshare portfolio and many companies have already stated that they would not be paying their next scheduled dividend at all. I do not have a pension, a part pension or a health card so I am very worried about how I am to live."

"I am not sure how long my finances will last if the economy does not restart and therefore increase the value of my limited investments especially as interest rates will remain low for more years than I have left."

"I retired recently and probably shouldn’t have. My superannuation has dropped considerably and I’m now worried that it won’t be enough. And now I’m too old to get a job."


In the later survey, 80 per cent of people were concerned about the risk of COVID-19, which was 11 per cent higher than when the restrictions first eased. Concern about mental health showed the greatest increase from 46 per cent to 63 per cent of people being very or somewhat concerned.

"As stated previously I feel the mental health issues caused by isolation and re-emerging back into the world will be enormous for some and I hope government and agencies are aware and preparing to put into place effective rescue programs."

"Certainly, my mental health has deteriorated over time, much more anxious and concerned. Trying to keep up walking and other exercise and contact with friends via Zoom etc. Life will never be the same."

Other concerns

People added additional comments mentioning other issues important to seniors such as ageism and an increasing need to be ‘tech savvy’:

"Frankly I was shocked at the government's attitudes towards 'old people' and the impression to me is that the present government sees me as useless and the sooner I die the better. I think their attitude is appalling."

We will be overlooked, as we are too old, retired and will be treated as a burden to society."

"Lobbying for easier/low cost government funding assistance and access for older Australians who are not very tech savvy and who don't have (or can't afford to purchase) computers/smartphones/tablets... So how are these older Australians who do not have family or a younger tech-savvy person to help them able to manage their lives in an 'everything done online' world?"

Australian seniors are remarkably resilient in adjusting and adapting to living with COVID-19. Our motivation for doing these surveys in real time was to capture your evolving experiences and concerns during the nationwide COVID crisis. We would like to thank everyone for their valuable and generous responses during these challenging times.


What's on - Summer 2020
  • Summer 2020
  • What's on
  • Read Time: 3 mins

What's on - Summer 2020

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