Persistent loneliness due to COVID-19 over 18 months of the pandemic: a prospective cohort study

Ashwin A. Kotwal*, Stephanie Batio, Michael Wolf, Kenneth E. Covinsky, Julia Yoshino Benavente, Carla M. Perissinotto, Rachel M. O'Conor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Loneliness was common early in the COVID-19 pandemic due to physical distancing measures, but little is known about how loneliness persisted into later stages of the pandemic. We therefore examined longitudinal trajectories of loneliness over 18 months of the pandemic and subgroups at risk for persistent loneliness. Methods: We used data from the COVID-19 & Chronic Conditions study collected between March 27, 2020 to December 10, 2021, including 641 predominantly older adults with ≥1 chronic condition who completed six interviews at approximately 3 month intervals. Participants reported loneliness (defined as some, most, or all of the time) during the past week due to COVID-19. We used trajectory mixture models to identify clusters of individuals following similar trajectories of loneliness, then determined subgroups likely to be classified in different loneliness trajectories using multivariable regression models adjusted for sociodemographic and clinical covariates. Results: Participants were on average 63 years old, 61% female, 30% Black, 20% Latinx, and 29% were living below the poverty level. There was an overall reduction in loneliness over time (March to April/2020: 51% to September to December/2021: 31%, p = 0.01). Four distinct trajectory groups emerged: (1) “Persistent Loneliness” (n = 101, 16%); (2) “Adapted” (n = 141, 22%), individuals who were initially lonely, with feelings of loneliness decreasing over time; (3) “Occasional loneliness” (n = 189, 29%); and (4) “Never lonely” (n = 211, 33%). Subgroups at highest risk of the “Persistently Lonely” trajectory included those identifying as Latinx (aOR 2.5, 95% CI: 1.2, 5.2), or living in poverty (aOR 2.5; 95% CI: 1.4, 4.6). Conclusions: Although loneliness declined for a majority of older adults during the pandemic in our sample, persistent loneliness attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic was common (1 in 6 adults), particularly among individuals identifying as Hispanic/Latinx or living in poverty. Interventions addressing loneliness can ease pandemic-related suffering, and may mitigate long-term mental and physical health consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Keywords

  • chronic illness
  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • loneliness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology

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