According to a new study by researchers from the University of Stirling, the social distancing measures introduced to help contain the coronavirus infection has affected the well-being of Scotland’s older population, increasing their feelings of loneliness.
The study discovered a connection between the worsening health and well-being of individuals over 60 years and the growth in loneliness. The research determined that increased loneliness was linked to a decrease in well-being, lower social support and a small social network.
The research was launched earlier in May under the Scottish government’s rapid research in coronavirus program. A professor of the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, Anna Whittaker, led the study. She hopes that study findings will help in decision-making with regard to the virus and support strategies that are geared towards recovery after the pandemic.
Whittaker stated that prior studies had shown the negative effects of loneliness and social isolation. This, she said, was an important issue for older people who may not have had lots of social contact or the chance to engage with others. Whittaker added that the social-distancing guidelines that were introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic affect vulnerable groups, such as the older people, and limit engagement in social activity.
The study surveyed 1,429 older individuals and assessed how social-distancing measures implemented during the pandemic had affected well-being, loneliness and social activity. A majority of the participants — 56% — reported that the measures made them experience less frequent social contact with fewer people, resulting in more loneliness.
The researchers discovered that better social support and a bigger social network seemed to protect against declines in well-being and health as well as an increase in loneliness. This emphasizes the importance of addressing social contact and loneliness in older individuals, especially during situations where the isolation risk is high, such as a pandemic.
Among the total number of study participants, 84% were 60 years and above and had a social network of five people on average. The participants also socialized for five days each week, for roughly six and a half hours, on average.
In addition to this, the researchers assessed the effect the measures had on physical activity. An estimated 35% of participants continued to meet their physical activity guidelines during the lockdown period with walking being the largest contributor to physical activity. Some 40% reported walking less than compared to pre-lockdown, with a similar proportion claiming that they engaged less in moderate physical activity. The researchers found that people who reported lower physical activity had poorer well-being.
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