"I Could Not Manage This Long-Term, Absolutely Not." Aging in Place, Informal Care, COVID-19, and the Neighborhood in Flanders (Belgium)

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jun 16;18(12):6482. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18126482.


Public health and care policies across OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries increasingly encourage aging in place, enabled by both formal care networks, and informal (family) care and social solidarity in the neighborhood. However, little is known about how a person's neighborhood might affect their aging in place. The COVID-19 crisis unintendedly offered a good opportunity to observe the neighborhood's role in the provision of care. Since formal care services were often limited during the lockdown, informal caregiving may have increased. However, intergenerational contacts in and outside of the household were strongly discouraged by governments worldwide, adding another layer of complexity to caregiving. The aim of this qualitative study was to assess how informal caregivers in Flanders managed to provide care to their care receivers, and what role the neighborhood played in this provision of care. Sixteen qualitative Skype and telephone interviews with informal caregivers were conducted between June and December 2020 to understand their experiences and coping strategies. Overall, most respondents increased their frequency of caregiving during the first lockdown. They took on the extra care needs during the lockdown themselves, and did not actively invoke any kind of neighborhood support. The significance of the neighborhood seemingly remained limited. This was often not because no help was offered, but rather due to a sense of pride or the fear of infection, and an increased effort by family caregivers.

Keywords: COVID-19; aging in place; informal care; neighborhood.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Belgium
  • COVID-19*
  • Caregivers
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Humans
  • Independent Living*
  • Patient Care
  • SARS-CoV-2