The effect of COVID-19 on loneliness in the elderly. An empirical comparison of pre-and peri-pandemic loneliness in community-dwelling elderly

Theresa Heidinger, Lukas Richter

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Old-age loneliness is a global problem with many members of the scientific community
suspecting increased loneliness in the elderly population during COVID-19 and the
associated safety measures. Although hypothesized, a direct comparison of loneliness
before and during the pandemic is hard to achieve without a survey of loneliness prior
to the pandemic. This study provides a direct comparison of reported loneliness before
and during the pandemic using 1:1 propensity score matching (PSM) on a pre- and a
peri-pandemic sample of elderly (60C years) individuals from Lower Austria, a county
of Austria (Europe). Differences on a loneliness index computed from the short De Jong
Gierveld scale were found to be significant, evidencing that loneliness in the elderly
population had in fact risen slightly during the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated
safety measures. Although the reported loneliness remained rather low, this result
illustrated the effect of the “new normal” under COVID-19. As loneliness is a risk factor
for physical and mental illness, this result is important in planning the future handling
of the pandemic, as safety measures seem to have a negative impact on loneliness.
This work confirms the anticipated increase in loneliness in the elderly population during
COVID-19.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 302020 Gerontology
  • 504007 Empirical social research
  • 504003 Poverty and social exclusion
  • 501002 Applied psychology

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