Most people experience occasional loneliness, but midlife and older Hispanic/Latinx or poor persons may experience it more often.
In a survey of 641 people, average age 63, questioned over 18 months during the pandemic, 16% experienced from persistent loneliness. The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society earlier this month.
53% of white people felt less lonely as the pandemic proceeded, compared to 18% of Hispanic/Latinx participants. Those above poverty were more likely to experience decreased loneliness (71% vs. 29%).
“Transient loneliness is widespread throughout the lifetime, and while distressing in the short-term, it can encourage people to reconnect with social interactions or the community,” said first author Ashwin A. Kotwal, MD, of UCSF’s Division of Geriatrics.
According to the study, the drive to reconnect with social interactions or get active in local activities may help reduce loneliness. Just 26% of those who overcame loneliness were socially isolated, compared to 40% who remained lonely.
The researchers examined data from the Chicago-based COVID-19 & Chronic Conditions study. Participants had six 3-month interviews. They had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, or cancer. 61% were women, 30% were black, and 20% were Hispanic/Latinx. 29% of individuals acknowledged occasional loneliness, while 33% indicated they were never lonely.
Distancing may hit Hispanic/Latinx households worse
The uniqueness of Hispanic/Latinx people precludes generalisations about why they are more lonely. During the pandemic, social distancing damaged “culturally essential familism,” segregating intergenerational households. Restricted community and religious gatherings may have contributed to loneliness.
For the poor, interacting online with friends and relatives during the pandemic and buying masks, antigen tests, and air purifiers may have been prohibitive. They may have been “disproportionately impacted” by fewer mobility and community-based activities, the scientists said.
While the pandemic’s most virulent phase may be passed, loneliness remains a risk, said Kotwal.
“Individuals already experiencing socially or medically disrupting circumstances, such as chronic illness, widowhood, late life disability or mental health concerns, may experience greater barriers to coping with loneliness,” he said. Prolonged loneliness can lead to psychological distress, depression, functional decline, poor cardiovascular health, and even death.
“Several interventions address loneliness. Interventions include buddy lines, technology workshops, and intergenerational volunteers. Maintain or extend these initiatives “saying
Ashwin A. Kotwal et al, Persistent loneliness due to COVID ‐19 over 18 months of the pandemic: a prospective cohort study, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2022). DOI: 10.1111/jgs.18010