Landscapes of Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Flanders (Belgium)

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Abstract

Western aging policies prioritize aging-in-place, often emphasizing informal care and support. However, organizing informal care at home gives rise to complicated and multilayered negotiations between people and their home environments. This negotiation involves sociocultural, economic, and spatial dimensions, impacting the so-called landscapes of care. Distance, both geographical and emotional, is a key factor in informal care. As the COVID-19 pandemic plunged us into a health crisis unprepared, governmental measures had to be implemented quickly. Older and at-risk persons especially had to keep distance from non-household members. These measures expectedly impacted the existing landscapes of care, especially regarding caring task divisions. This article discusses how landscapes of care were affected in Flanders (Dutch-speaking region of Belgium) during and shortly after its first lockdown. Sixteen in-depth, qualitative digital interviews were conducted as part of an interdisciplinary research project. They explored how social support and informal care networks of community-dwelling older adults might have changed during the pandemic. The findings indicate that informal care and support became more strictly and unilaterally organized within the families with a contraction of social support networks. Therefore, older people, although cared for, were forced into an organized social isolation at home.