Has Covid-19 changed attitudes towards end of life planning?

July 8, 2021
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end of life planning
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Bernadette Fulton

We learn daily of the human costs resulting from the pandemic. And we are also aware of the many social as well as medical and political challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic.

There is increasing public comment about how the pandemic has affected some of the social ‘norms’ we value. And how we are responding to these changes.

Has the pandemic also affected our attitudes towards our own mortality? And consequently, our end of life planning?

The pandemic and social civility

There has been academic and social comment that suggests COVID-19 may have occasioned ‘a crisis of civility’, against the background of great social disruption and emotional upheaval caused by the pandemic.

People all over the world have been forcibly separated from loved ones and friends. Australia has fared much better than other countries overall but there have been significant lockdowns in some communities to try to keep the virus from spreading.

We have experienced enforced social distancing, mask wearing directives and drastic travel restrictions. Staying distant from those we love and being masked in the course of our daily human interaction can cut us off, even if temporarily, from the usual reassuring distractions of our lives.

One obvious result of these conditions has been the need to adapt our modes of social behaviour and interaction. Most of the work force has become accustomed to working from home. And Zoom or similar technology has replaced the familiar and comforting face to face contact with family and friends that we had previously enjoyed and took for granted.

Has the pandemic disrupted our ability to enact accepted forms of civility?

Civility is generally considered to have two aspects. The first is politeness and good manners, showing respect and consideration for others. The second relates to our civic responsibilities and public-mindedness and treating others as equal. This includes acknowledging that everyone is entitled to voice an opinion which may differ from our own.

We know of the well-publicised incidents of basic bad manners of some consumers in supermarkets. And the ongoing stories of individuals who disregard the safety of others by flaunting social distancing and similar directives and ignore reporting requirements.

At the same time, we know there have been many examples of people acting kindly towards each other during the pandemic. Thoughtful and considerate samaritans helping those who needed assistance and becoming more aware of the problems of social isolation.

A state of collective anxiety

People worldwide have experienced understandable fear and uncertainty since the start of the pandemic. Especially in the early days when there was little or no clarity about the cause of the virus or how it was transmitted. Nor how virulent it would prove to be, and if, and how it could be controlled.

The sad statistics of death, even those of strangers and people in other countries, has made us more aware of our vulnerability to the unknown and unexpected. And of how little we are really in control of the course of our lives and futures.

Although vaccines are now available, we are aware that the virus can mutate and is now appearing in new forms. This ongoing experience has left many people feeling drained and anxious. The term ‘collective anxiety’ is being used to describe this phenomenon.

U.S survey on changing end of life attitudes

But has the pandemic affected our attitudes toward death and planning for our end of life?

A recent survey in the U.S of a wide population cross-section of 1,138 adults, ranging in age from 25 to more than 75 years old, produced the following interesting statistics.

51 % of all those surveyed said they were thinking more about mortality because of COVID-19 pandemic. But despite this, 85% still did not feel ready to start a conversation about it. 70% had not yet made clear end of life plans.

Even among those in the 55-75 age group, who may be more vulnerable to the virus, a surprising 63% had not made firm end of life plans.

However, the biggest surprise was probably the results from ‘millennials’ in the 25-40 age bracket. More than 60% said that because of the pandemic they had started talking about end of life matters with their families.

On a daily basis, we receive reminders that our or our loved one’s death are a reality of the present, not the distant future. It may be that this loss of confidence and uncertainty has prompted many to become better organised. To think about and prepare for the future, and not leave behind unnecessary problems for loved ones.

An opportunity to make your end of life plans

Have you also experienced a heightened degree of anxiety and uncertainty about the future? Then perhaps there is an opportunity for you here. To use your new awareness to get your life affairs in order.

Experts and many of those surveyed remarked on the benefits of talking about, and planning for, end of life. They suggest it can actually ease fear, anxiety and grief. It helps to strengthen relationships with loved ones, whilst retaining a sense of control over your life. Yet despite the benefits, many people do not talk about their end of life preferences.

Of those who had started planning their wishes and had started that conversation with their loved ones, 73% described the experience as ‘productive, reassuring and positive’.

At Anticipate Life we understand that starting those important conversations and taking those first steps is not easy. Which is why we provide resources to help you meet these challenges. We provide guidelines to help you identify the decisions you might need to consider in formulating your wishes and plans.

Our web-based digital locker provides a single, secure place to confidentially store your important life information and wishes for end of life. To learn more we invite you to visit our website. After all, being prepared as much as possible is always good policy.