On the third anniversary of the pandemic, a new poll shows fewer older adults are experiencing loneliness and isolation though the numbers are still high.

About one-third of adults aged 50 to 80 still sometimes or often experience isolation and loneliness, according to the University of Michigan researchers. They may go a week or longer without social contact from someone outside the home.

Still, that’s fewer than the half of older adults who reported this in June 2020.

“Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we see reason for hope, but also a real cause for concern,” said Dr. Preeti Malani, senior advisor and former director of the University of Michigan (U-M) National Poll on Healthy Aging. “If anything, the pandemic has shown us just how important social interaction is for overall mental and physical health, and how much more attention we need to pay to this from a clinical, policy and personal perspective.”

More than 2,500 older adults answered survey questions in January. The sample was weighted to reflect the population of U.S. adults aged 50 to 80.

The poll is based at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and supported by AARP and Michigan Medicine.

“Loneliness and isolation were too high before the pandemic, and it will take a concerted effort to bring these rates down further,” poll director Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren, an associate professor of internal medicine at Michigan Medicine said in a university news release.

“While we must always balance risk of infection with risk of isolation in older adults, we now know that a combination of vaccination, medication, testing, ventilation and masking can protect even the most vulnerable and allow them to engage socially,” he added.

Among the findings were that about 37% of older adults said they felt a lack of companionship in the past year, compared with 41% in June 2020 and 34% in 2018.

About 34% of older adults reported feeling isolated from others, down from 56% in June 2020 but still higher than the 27% who said the same in 2018.

About 73% of those who reported fair or poor mental health felt a lack of companionship. About 77% in that group reported feeling isolated, compared with 29% among those who felt they had excellent, very good or good mental health. About 51% of those who have a disability or health condition that they say limits their activity said they experience a lack of companionship, compared with 30% of those without those limitations.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the health impacts of loneliness and isolation.

SOURCE: Michigan Medicine — University of Michigan, news release, March 13, 2023