Tuesday, 15 September 2020
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.In June of this year, 56 per cent of people over the age of 50 said they sometimes or often felt isolated from others - more than double the 27 per cent who felt that way in a similar poll in 2018. Nearly half of those polled in June of this year also said they felt more isolated than they had just before the pandemic arrived in the United States, and a third said they felt they had less companionship than before.Social contacts suffered too, with 46 per cent of older adults reporting in June that they infrequently interacted with friends, neighbours or family outside their household - doing so once a week or less -- compared with 28 per cent who said this 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 centre. Both the 2020 and 2018 polls on loneliness involved a national sample of more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80.The poll points to some bright spots, too. For instance, 46 per cent of older adults who said they interacted with people in their neighbourhood at least once a week were less likely to say they’d experienced forms of loneliness. Technology also helped many people over 50 connect with others, including the 59 per cent who reported using social media at least once a week, and the 31% who used video chat at least once a week.
And many older adults said they engaged in healthy behaviours despite the pandemic -- including 75% who said they were getting outdoors or interacting with nature, and 62% who said they got exercise several times a week. But those experiencing loneliness were less likely to engage in these healthy behaviours. “As the pandemic continues, it will be critical to pay attention to how well we as a society support the social and emotional needs of older adults,” says John Piette, Ph.D., a professor at the U-M School of Public Health who worked with the poll team.