Over the past two years, the 45 and Up Study has helped inform the NSW pandemic response with its COVID Insights surveys and related questionnaires. This data is highly valuable to researchers and will soon be available through a new resource – the COVID Data Hub.
In 2020, more than 45,000 participants completed COVID questionnaires, with around 32,000 people then enrolling in a series of five surveys (the COVID Insights surveys) which continued to March 2022. We have combined all this data in the COVID Data Hub.
The COVID Data Hub will be available to approved research in the coming months. It can be linked with all 45 and Up Study data along with other administrative data. The Hub offers snapshots of health and wellbeing during the pandemic across a range of areas, including mental health, lifestyle and access to health services as well as insights into changing attitudes and behaviours.
By following the same people over time, researchers can examine the impact of lockdowns, changes in public health messaging, extent of health care appointments missed, variation in the pandemic’s effect on mental health across areas and population groups. Here’s a peek at what our participants are reporting on ‘long COVID’, mental health and more.
New data on ‘long COVID’
The fifth and final survey was in the field in March 2022, several months after the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was first detected and after restrictions began easing across NSW.
For respondents who tested positive to COVID-19, 7% reported persistent symptoms that lasted longer than three months.
The most common persistent symptom was fatigue, affecting 82% of people with long COVID, followed by a cough (43%) and poor memory and concentration (40%).
Telehealth is popular but missed care still high
The March 2022 survey also revealed that telehealth has become a popular medical service, with 39% of participants using it in the past three months and almost two-thirds of them finding it as good as an in-person appointment. The most common type of telehealth appointment was with a GP.
However, missed health care is still at raised levels, especially for women. In the latest survey, 18% of women reported missed healthcare in the past month, compared to 13% of men. That is down from the 30% of women (and 21% of men) reporting missed care in September-November 2021 (reported in Survey 4), but it’s at the same level as June-September 2021 (reported in Survey 3).
The most frequently missed care was dental, then GP and specialist appointments. One in 10 people missed a cancer screening appointment. Data about missed care is valuable as researchers can examine its impact on health outcomes.
More mental health impacts than a year ago
In the March 2022 survey, 44% of survey participants felt their mental health had deteriorated because of the pandemic. That figure was a large rise from the 32% in June-September 2021.
Across the series of surveys, more women reported poorer mental health than men – half of all female participants reported that their mental health had deteriorated in the March 2022 survey.
The March 2022 survey revealed that 11% of the general population were intensely lonely, which is an increase from the 9% who reported that in the third survey. People with a disability are most affected by loneliness, 24% intensely lonely and 41% with some degree of loneliness.
Reported quality of life has remained relatively high over the past 12 months. In the March 2022 survey, 74% had excellent or very good quality of life, compared to 73% in June-September 2021 (Survey 3). Those figures are lower than the 78% of people reporting excellent or very good quality of life in July-December 2020 (Survey 1). There is also substantial variation between different groups, with markedly worse findings for those with disability and those living alone.
The 45 and Up Study is an open access resource. The new 45 and Up COVID Data Hub will include information collected in the five COVID Insights surveys and the 2020 COVID supplement which was completed by 45,000 participants. This data can be linked to other survey and administrative health data available through the 45 and Up Study, for unique research into the ongoing effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and well-being of the population.