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U-M poll: Loneliness among older adults doubled in early months of pandemic

GRANADA, SPAIN - JUNE 01: Mari Carmen 79, kisses via videocall her family during her first family visit in DomusVii El Serrallo nursing home on June 01, 2020 in Granada, Spain. The DomusVi El Serrallo nursing home in Granada has started a program of face-to-face visits. Elderly users can receive family visits after three months of strict lockdown. Due Covid-19 pandemic, over 18,000 eldery people have died in nursing homes in Spain. (Photo by Carlos Gil Andreu/Getty Images)
GRANADA, SPAIN - JUNE 01: Mari Carmen 79, kisses via videocall her family during her first family visit in DomusVii El Serrallo nursing home on June 01, 2020 in Granada, Spain. The DomusVi El Serrallo nursing home in Granada has started a program of face-to-face visits. Elderly users can receive family visits after three months of strict lockdown. Due Covid-19 pandemic, over 18,000 eldery people have died in nursing homes in Spain. (Photo by Carlos Gil Andreu/Getty Images) (2020 Carlos Gil Andreu)

ANN ARBOR – According to a recent poll by the University of Michigan, 56 percent of adults over the age of 50 reported feeling isolated from others in June.

That’s more than double the 27% who reported feeling lonely in a similar 2018 poll.

Although staying home to avoid crowds is an effective way to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, isolating from others comes with a cost, the study reveals.

Nearly half of those who reported feeling isolated from others in June of this year also said the isolation intensified following the arrival of COVID-19 to the U.S. Those who live alone, are unemployed or disabled were more likely to feel isolated than those who live and work with others or are retired. Additionally, a third of respondents reported having less companionship than before the pandemic.

Lack of social contacts also nearly doubled, with 46 percent of older adults reporting in June that interaction with neighbors, friends or family outside of their household dropped to once a week or less, compared to 28 percent in 2018.

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“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," John Piette, professor at the U-M School of Public Health who worked with the poll team, said in a statement. “The intersection of loneliness and health still needs much study, but even as we gather new evidence, all of us can take time to reach out to older neighbors, friends and relatives in safe ways as they try to avoid the coronavirus.”

Fifty nine percent of older adults reported using social media at least once a week, while 31% reported using video chat with the same frequency. Meanwhile, seventy five percent of respondents reported engaging in healthy behaviors by getting outdoors or interacting with nature while 62% reported exercising multiple times a week.

“The use of technology to bridge the gap, and the importance of keeping up healthy routines like exercise, sleep, a balanced diet and getting outside will no doubt continue to be important in the months ahead,” Preeti Malani, the U-M Medical School professor who directs the poll and has training in geriatrics and infectious diseases, said in a statement.

Health experts found that those experiencing loneliness were less likely to take up healthy routines, and although social media and video chat use is on the rise, those who use them were more likely to report feeling isolated.

The findings are from the National Poll on Healthy Aging -- a study for the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, which is supported by Michigan Medicine and AARP.

Both polls on loneliness in older adults from 2020 and 2018 drew from a national sample of more than 2,000 respondents between the ages of 50 and 80 and were conducted online.


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