Older people in the poorest parts of England were more than twice as likely to feel isolated and lonely during the first coronavirus lockdown than those in the richest areas, research has suggested.
A third (33%) of older people in the poorest 20% of areas felt isolated during the first lockdown, according to research led by University College London (UCL) and the University of Manchester.
This compares to 16% of those in the richest quintile.
Researchers analysed data from 4,709 men and women aged over 50 who were part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) before the pandemic and during the first two lockdowns in 2020.
Adults older than 70 experienced larger increases in objective social isolation in the second half of 2020 and those aged 50-59 and older than 80 felt the loneliest during the pandemicDr Georgia Chatzi
They looked at subjective social isolation – how isolated participants feel – and objective social isolation – actual levels of contact with friends and family.
Around a fifth (19%) of participants reported high levels of subjective social isolation before the pandemic, with the prevalence increasing during both waves.
Nine per cent reported high objective social isolation and this percentage decreased during the pandemic.
Women and those with poor self-reported health had a higher risk of feeling socially isolated and lonely during the pandemic.
Increased remote interaction, such as video calls, appeared to be ineffective in fully combating increased feelings of social isolation and loneliness, the authors noted.
Lead author Dr Georgia Chatzi, from the University of Manchester, said: “All age groups had higher subjective social isolation during 2020 compared with previous years, but those aged 50-59 were most affected.
“Adults older than 70 experienced larger increases in objective social isolation in the second half of 2020 and those aged 50-59 and older than 80 felt the loneliest during the pandemic.”
Professor Andrew Steptoe, from UCL’s Department of Behavioural Science and Health, and ELSA lead, added: “Social distancing strategies were very important for older adults, who were particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.
“However, this may have meant that older adults found it particularly hard to maintain social connections because of lower access to and use of digital technologies, and because of the greater likelihood of needing to socially isolate in addition to social distancing.”