Loneliness doubled among older adults in first months of COVID-19

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While staying home is advisable for older adults amid Covid, a poll from June 2020 showed that 56 per cent of people over the age of 50 sometimes or often felt isolated from others.

 

Staying close to home and avoiding crowded places can help older adults reduce their risk of COVID-19. But a new national poll suggests it comes with a cost, especially for those with health challenges.

A poll from June 2020 showed that 56 per cent of people over the age of 50 sometimes or often felt isolated from others - more than double the 27 per cent, who felt that way in a similar poll in 2018. 

The new findings come from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, which is done for the University of Michigan's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M's academic medical center. Both the 2020 and 2018 polls on loneliness involved a national sample of more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80.

Most of them said they felt more isolated than they had just before the pandemic arrived. Social contacts suffered too, with 46 per cent of older adults reporting in June that they infrequently interacted with friends, neighbors or family outside their household.

The poll points to some bright spots, too. For instance, the 46 per cent of older adults who said they interacted with people in their neighborhood at least once a week were less likely to say they'd experienced forms of loneliness. 

Many older adults said they engaged in healthy behaviors despite the pandemic -- including 75 per cent who said they were getting outdoors or interacting with nature, and 62 per cent who said they got exercise several times a week. But those experiencing loneliness were less likely to engage in these healthy behaviors.

Interactions with health and lifestyle

As many as 80 per cent of those polled in June said they were eating a healthy diet and 81 per cent said they got enough sleep - almost exactly the same as in the 2018 poll.

The poll also found that half of those who live alone, and just over half of those who are unemployed or disabled, said they felt a lack of companionship, compared with 39 per cent of those who live with others, work or are retired.

Similarly, just over half of those who said their physical health was fair or poor, and two-thirds of those who said the same about their mental health, said they lacked compantionship. Nearly three-quarters of those who said their mental health was fair or poor said they felt isolated, compared with 55 per centof those reporting better mental health.

The use of technology to connect appears to be a double-edged sword, with those who use social media and video chat being more likely to say they felt isolated.

Moving forward

As the pandemic continues, and older adults try to avoid coronavirus infection and the outsize risk to their health, AARP is offering resources, including tips for older adults to avoid feeling isolated despite the pandemic. AARP Foundation's Connect2Affect website includes a tool that can help older adults assess their level of isolation, and connect them to resources and opportunities in their area.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued a report in February 2020 about the need for the health care system to help in preventing, identifying and addressing loneliness in people over 50.

The National Poll on Healthy Aging results are based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 2,074 adults aged 50 to 80 who answered a wide range of questions online. Questions were written, and data interpreted and compiled, by the IHPI team. Laptops and Internet access were provided to poll respondents who did not already have them.

 

With inputs from ANI

Image credit: Ideas

 

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