BACKGROUND: Older women have faced significant disruptions in social connections during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. Whether loneliness increased or whether a change in loneliness from pre- to intrapandemic period was associated with mental health during the pandemic is unknown. METHODS: Older women (n = 27 479; mean age 83.2 [SD: 5.4] years) completed surveys in mid-2020, including questions about loneliness, living arrangements, changes in social connections, and mental health. Loneliness was also previously assessed in 2014-2016. We examined whether loneliness changed from the pre- to intrapandemic period and explored factors associated with this change. In multivariable models, we investigated the association of changes in loneliness and social connections with mental health. RESULTS: Loneliness increased from pre- to intrapandemic levels. Factors associated with worsening loneliness included older age, experiencing stressful life events, bereavement, histories of vascular disease and depression, and social connection disruptions. Factors associated with a decrease in loneliness included identifying as Black, engaging in more frequent physical activity, being optimistic, and having a higher purpose in life. A 3-point increase in loneliness scores was associated with higher perceived stress, higher depressive, and higher anxiety symptoms. Social connection disruptions showed modest or no associations with mental health. CONCLUSIONS: Loneliness increased during the pandemic in older women and was associated with higher stress, depressive, and anxiety symptoms. Our findings point to opportunities for interventions targeting lifestyle behaviors, well-being, disrupted social connections, and paying closer attention to those with specific medical and mental health histories that may reduce loneliness and improve mental health.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Journal||The journals of gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences|
|State||Published - Dec 6 2022|
- Social connection
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geriatrics and Gerontology