Although the rapid implementation of physical distancing and self-imposed quarantine is necessary to contain the spread of coronavirus, it has left many people, and particularly older people, feeling more alone than ever before.
A recent study conducted from Bar-Ilan University and the University of Haifa has linked COVID-19-based loneliness in older adults with elevated psychiatric symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma. However, the association is only evident among those who felt subjectively older than their biological age but not in those who felt younger.
"The way older adults perceive old age and their own aging may be more important to their coping and wellbeing than their chronological age," said the principal investigator, Prof. Amit Shrira. The findings suggest that lowering perception of age is a gateway to mitigate the negative impact of loneliness in older adults.
The profound effects of social isolation and loneliness on the health and functional ability of older people are also astounding. The report “Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults” by the National Academies of Sciences revealed that social isolation has been associated with a significantly increased risk of premature mortality from all causes, including a 50% increased risk of developing dementia, a 29% increased risk of incident coronary heart disease, a 25% increased risk for cancer mortality, a 59% increased risk of functional decline, and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
Given the mental and health risks of social isolation, which have been starkly portrayed during the current pandemic for all ages, but most especially older people separated from loved ones and community actions and activities, it is essential that innovative ways to connect become the norm rather than a novelty. Also important is to encourage a positive thinking on isolation to relieve the emotional burden of physical distancing and prevent or reverse loneliness in a time of self-quarantine among older adults.
"We should take this opportunity to learn again what it really means to be social and find new forms of social connection. Older adults, in fact, have a wisdom that can be protective against loneliness because they tend to value the quality of their relationships over the quantity." said Stephanie Cacioppo, director of the Brain Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, in a recent interview with ABC News.
To learn more about how to keep a positive attitude under the emotional stress of social isolation during the pandemic, please contact IFA Expert Dr Emily A. Greenfield, Associate Professor of Social Work at the State University of New Jersey.
Emily A. Greenfield, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Social Work
Dr. Greenfield's research addresses how early life experiences matter for aging. She also studies age-friendly community change processes.