Governing risk and older age during covid-19: contextualizing ageism and covid-19 outbreaks in Australian aged care facilities during 2020

Peta Cook, Barbara Neves, Cassie Curryer, Susan Banks, Annetta Mallon, Jack Lam, Maho Omori

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


The infectious spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has generated numerous media and political responses that bring together health, risk, and age. Within these responses, older people have been cast as “the vulnerable elderly” who are less socially worthy and valuable than younger people, in poor health, and considered to be automatically at risk of COVID-19 due to their age. This simplistic connection between older age, frailty, and ill-health reduces older age to a medical and health problem, which perpetuates and deepens ageism. The implied connection has been particularly evident during the coronavirus pandemic through the imposition on older people, who are living in aged and long-term care facilities, of severe lockdown restrictions enforced through the processes of risk governmentality and authoritative control. These socio-political and institutional regulations have heightened the isolation from society that older people living in such environments already face, ironically further threatening their health and wellbeing. Drawing on Australian media reports and specific institutional responses imposed on or emerging from residential aged care that occurred during 2020, our theoretical examination reveals how ageism, risk discourses, and risk governance during the coronavirus pandemic jeopardized older Australian’s health, wellbeing, and dignity of risk, while also reinforcing barriers to social inclusion. We conclude with suggestions for dealing with ageism including challenging the medicalisation of older age, promoting and supporting older people’s dignity of risk, and radically changing our attitudes towards, and language regarding, ageing
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on COVID-19 Pandemic and Older Persons
Subtitle of host publicationNarratives and Issues from India and Beyod
EditorsMala Kapur Shankardass
Place of PublicationGateway East, Singapore
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9789819914678
ISBN (Print)9789819914661
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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