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By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues
With the COVID-19 Delta variant numbers having surged across the nation, Joe (70) and Joyce (66), residing across the Rhode Island border in Seekonk, Massachusetts, continue to keep their distance from others, only seeing vaccinated friends and spending time with their daughter and her husband and grandchildren. During the first year of the pandemic, my friends pre-ordered their groceries and picked up the filled bags outside the store, where an employee quickly put the bags in their trunk. Now, this includes a quick 15-minute trip into the store, if necessary. They continue to not eat their meals in restaurants but will pick up their order curbside or eat outside.
Like my longtime friends, many older adults age 50 and over still remained concerned about this virus and continue to isolate themselves from others (especially those unvaccinated) and practice social distancing and wear their masks.
Still Feeling Socially Isolated
According to a newly released survey on Sept. 29, 2021, by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and funded by The SCAN Foundation, while a majority of adults age 50 or older see their quality of life, mental health, and satisfaction with social activities and relationships positively, they rarely, or never, feel socially isolated. But still, 18 months into the pandemic,1 in 3 still feel socially isolated at least sometimes. And 1 in 4 feels that their social life and relationships have gotten worse over the past year.
The poll survey includes 1,015 interviews with a nationally representative sample of adults age 50 and older living in America. Interviews were conducted between Aug. 20 and 23, 2021, via internet and phone, in English.
The research findings indicate that those older adults most worried about themselves or a loved one being infected by COVID-19 are most likely to practice social distancing, by avoiding travel, staying away from large groups of people, and wearing a mask. They are the ones most often experiencing feelings of social isolation. The researchers say that these people rate their quality of life, mental and emotional health, and social activities and relationships as worse than those less concerned about the virus.
The study’s findings indicate that being vaccinated does not provide the older persons with relief. Those who are vaccinated are more worried about infection from the virus, are more likely to practice social distancing, and are more likely to describe their mental health as worse than last year compared to those who are not vaccinated.
Touching Others Thru Video Chat and Social Media
To cope with isolation, older adults are using video chat and social media more often since the beginning of the pandemic as the frequency of activities like visiting with friends and family in person, doing volunteer work, attending religious services, and talking with neighbors have declined, the study’s findings indicate. And despite struggles with mental health and isolation, more report that their use of mental health services has declined (34%) than increased (6%).
In addition to the increasing use of technology to socialize, more older adults are using video chat, email, and other technology to receive health care remotely, say the researchers, noting that 63% have used telehealth at some point during the pandemic, up from 56% who had used it as of March 2021. Fifty-1% users expect to continue using it once the pandemic is over, too.
Still, adults age 50 and older are more optimistic than pessimistic that they will be able to fully return to their pre-pandemic activities in the next year, though 17% have already done so.
The results of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research can be found in “Long-Term Care in America: Coronavirus Worries and Social Isolation among Older Adults,” released on Sept. 2021.
Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, or the sequel, Taking Charge: Vol. 2 MORE Stories on Aging Boldly, go to herbweiss.com.