Staying close to home and avoiding crowded places can help seniors reduce their risk of COVID-19. But a new national poll suggests it comes at a cost, especially for those with health problems.
In June of this year, 56% of people over 50 said they sometimes or often felt isolated from others – more than double the 27% who felt so in a similar poll in 2018. Almost half of people polled in June this year also said they felt more isolated than they were just before the pandemic hit the United States, and a third said they felt less surrounded than before.
Social contact has also suffered, with 46% of seniors saying in June that they interacted infrequently with friends, neighbors or family outside of their home – doing so once a week or less – compared to 28% who said so in 2018.
The new findings come from the National Survey on Healthy Aging, conducted for the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, UM’s academic medical center. . The 2020 and 2018 loneliness surveys covered a national sample of more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80.
The survey also shows positive points. For example, the 46% of seniors who reported interacting with people in their neighborhood at least once a week were less likely to say they had experienced some form of loneliness. Technology has also helped many people over 50 connect with others, including the 59% who said they use social media at least once a week and the 31% who used video chat in at least once a week.
And many older people reported adopting healthy behaviors despite the pandemic – including 75% who said they went out or interacted with nature, and 62% who said they exercised several times a week. . But those who experienced loneliness were less likely to adopt these healthy behaviors.
“As the pandemic continues, it will be essential to pay attention to how we, as a society, support the social and emotional needs of older people,” said John Piette, Ph.D., professor at the UM School of Public Health who worked with the survey team. “The intersection of loneliness and health still needs a lot of study, but even as we gather new evidence, we can all take the time to contact our neighbors, friends and older relatives in a safe way as we go. ‘they are trying to avoid the coronavirus. “
“The change that we are seeing in these metrics in less than two years is truly remarkable,” says Preeti Malani, MD, a UM medical school professor who is leading the survey and has a background in geriatrics and infectious diseases. “The use of technology to bridge the gap and the importance of maintaining healthy routines like exercise, sleep, eating a balanced diet and getting outside, will no doubt continue to be important in the months to come. come.”
Interactions with health and lifestyle
Malani notes that 80% of those polled in June said they eat a healthy diet and 81% 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 (52%) of those unemployed or disabled, reported feeling a lack of camaraderie, compared with 39% of those living with it. others work or are retired.
Likewise, 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 camaraderie. Almost three-quarters of those who said their mental health was fair or poor said they felt isolated, compared with 55% of those who reported better mental health.
Using technology to connect appears to be a double-edged sword, with those who use social media and video chat more likely to say they feel isolated.
As the pandemic continues and older people try to avoid coronavirus infection and disproportionate risk to their health, AARP offers resources, including advice for older people (www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/coronavirus-social-isolement-loneiness.html) to avoid feeling isolated despite the pandemic. AARP Foundation Connect2Affect website (connect2affect.org) includes a tool that can help older people assess their level of isolation and connect them with resources and opportunities in their area.
“Previous studies have shown that prolonged isolation has a profound negative effect on health and well-being – as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” said Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of the research for AARP. “It’s no surprise that older people have reported more loneliness since the start of the pandemic, especially those who live alone. We need to continue to find ways to connect and engage with each other while throughout this public health crisis. “
The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released a report in February 2020 on the need for the healthcare system to help prevent, identify, and address loneliness in people over 50.
The results of the National Survey on Healthy Aging are based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 2,074 adults aged 50 to 80 who answered a wide range of online questions. The questions were written and the data interpreted and compiled by the IHPI team. Laptops and Internet access were provided to those interviewed who did not already have them.
A full report of the findings and methodology is available at http://www.healthyagingpoll.org, as well as previous reports from the National Survey on Healthy Aging.