AP-NORC Survey Finds Continued Concerns About COVID-19, Social Isolation Among Older Adults

Oct 6, 2021

According to a new study of adults age 50 and older from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and funded by The SCAN Foundation, many adults age 50 and older remain worried about infection and are more likely to practice
social distancing and to feel socially isolated.

Overall, majorities of adults age 50 and older rate their quality of life, mental health, and satisfaction with social activities and relationships positively. However, 18 months into the pandemic, 1 in 3 feels socially isolated at least sometimes. And 1 in 4 feels that their social life and relationships have gotten worse over the past year.

Those most worried about themselves or a loved one being infected by COVID-19 are more likely to avoid travel, stay away from large groups, and wear a mask, and more often experience feelings of social isolation. These practices may be taking a toll: these people also rate their quality of life, mental and emotional health, and social activities and relationships as worse than those less concerned about the virus. Despite these struggles, a greater number of older adults report that their use of mental health services has declined (34%) rather than increased (6%).

To cope with isolation, older adults are using video chat and social media more often 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. When it comes to getting health care, 63% have utilized telehealth since the start of the pandemic, up from 56% in March 2021. Fifty-one percent of those who have used telehealth are at least somewhat likely to continue using it once the pandemic is over.

Other key findings include:
• Overall, 34% have felt socially isolated and 38% have felt they lacked companionship at least sometimes in the past four weeks.
• 26% feel that their social relationships have gotten worse over the past year, and 23% feel the same about their emotional health. Just 15% feel these have improved.
• Those most worried about COVID-19 are more likely to have felt a lack of companionship (21% vs. 9%) and social isolation (21% vs. 7%) over the past four weeks.
• Those in households earning over $50,000 are more likely than those in households earning less report better quality of life (69% vs. 41%) and mental or emotional health (68% vs. 50%).
• Those concerned about the virus are more likely to be staying away from large groups (87% vs. 48%), wearing a face mask (80% vs. 46%), and avoiding nonessential travel (79% vs. 39%) compared to those less concerned about the virus.
• They are also less likely to describe their quality of life (47% vs. 63%), emotional health (50% vs. 66%), and social relationships (37% vs. 52%) as excellent or very good.

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