Loneliness has doubled for seniors in the first months of COVID-19

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And many older people reported adopting healthy behaviors despite the pandemic – including 75% who reported going out or interacting with nature and 62% who reported exercising 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,” says John Piette, Ph.D., a professor at the UM School of Public Health who worked with the survey team. “The intersection of loneliness and health still requires a lot of study, but even as we collect new evidence, we can all take time to reach neighbors, friends and older relatives safely while they are are trying to avoid the coronavirus. ”

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“The change we see in these metrics in less than two years is truly remarkable,” says Preeti Malani, MD, the UM School of Medicine 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 such as exercise, sleep, a balanced diet and going outdoors will no doubt continue to be important in the months to come. to come up.

Interactions with health and lifestyle and feelings of loneliness and isolation

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.

SEE ALSO: Many older people, especially those with health issues, feel isolated

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 reported feeling isolated, compared to 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 adult chat more likely to say they feel isolated.

Moving forward: Avoiding loneliness and exposure to COVID-19 among the elderly as the pandemic continues

As the pandemic continues and the elderly try to avoid coronavirus infection and disproportionate risk to their health, AARP is offering resources, including advice for the elderly to avoid feeling isolated despite pandemics. AARP Foundation Connect2Affect website 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,” says Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of the search for AARP. “It’s no surprise that older adults have reported greater loneliness since the start of the pandemic, especially those living alone. We must continue to find ways to connect and engage with each other throughout this public health crisis. ”

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine published a report in February 2020 on the need for the health care system to help prevent, identify and address loneliness in people over 50.

SEE ALSO: Pre-COVID-19 survey of older adults hints at potential impact of pandemic on their eating habits

The results of the National Healthy Aging Survey 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. The questions were written and the data interpreted and compiled by the IHPI team. Laptops and Internet access were provided to survey respondents who did not already have them.

A the full report of results and methodology is available as well as previous national surveys on healthy aging.

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