Social Distancing negatively impacts older people's wellbeing, study finds

Social distancing has a negative impact on the wellbeing of older people, a study from Stirling University has found.

Social distancing has increased feelings of loneliness among older people, the study found.
Social distancing has increased feelings of loneliness among older people, the study found.

The study found a link between social distancing and an increase in loneliness, and between loneliness in the over 60s and a worsening of health and wellbeing.

Increasing loneliness due to social distancing was associated with a smaller social network, lower perceived social support and a decrease in wellbeing,

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The study was part of the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office Rapid Research into Covid-19 programme launched in May.

Professor Anna Whittaker, of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, led the study and said she hopes it will inform strategies in recovery from the pandemic.

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Professor Whittaker said: “Previous studies have demonstrated the negative impacts of social isolation and loneliness. This is a key issue for older adults who may be more likely to have few social contacts.

"We know that social distancing guidelines introduced in response to Covid-19 have restricted social activity engagement and impacted vulnerable groups, including older adults.”

The study involved a survey of more than 1,400 participants, most of whom were over 60.

On average, the participants socialised five days per week, for more than 6.6 hours per week. Fifty-six per cent reported that social distancing regulations made them experience more loneliness.

Greater loneliness was significantly associated with a smaller social network, lower perceived social support, and a decrease in social support frequency, quality, and amount – and a worsening of wellbeing and health.

“Our study, which involved a survey of more than 1,400 older people, examined the impact of social distancing during the pandemic on social activity, loneliness and wellbeing. The majority of survey participants reported that social distancing has made them experience more loneliness, social contact with fewer people, and less social contact overall,” said Professor Whittaker.

“We found that a larger social network and better perceived social support seems to be protective against loneliness and poorer health and wellbeing, due to social distancing. This underlines the importance of addressing loneliness and social contact in older adults, but particularly during pandemics or situations where the risk of isolation is high.”

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