Living Alone During COVID-19: Social Contact and Emotional Well-being Among Older Adults

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2021 Feb 17;76(3):e116-e121. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbaa200.


Objective: The COVID-19 outbreak and associated physical distancing measures altered the social world for most older adults, but people who live alone may have been disproportionately affected. The current study examined how living alone was associated with daily social contact and emotional well-being among older adults during the pandemic.

Method: Adults (N = 226) aged 69+ completed a brief survey assessing their living situation, social contact with different social partners (in person, by phone, electronically), and emotions during the morning, afternoon, and evening the prior day.

Results: Older adults who live alone were less likely to see others in person or to receive or provide help. Living alone was associated with more positive emotions concurrent with in-person contact. In contrast, phone contact was associated with higher levels of negative affect among those living alone, but not among those who live with others. Older adults who live alone were more likely to have contact with friends (rather than family).

Discussion: Findings suggest older adults who live alone may be more reactive to social contact during the COVID-19 outbreak than older adults who reside with others. In-person contact may confer distinct benefits not available via telephone contact, suggesting that possible interventions during the pandemic may work best with safe forms of in-person contact, possibly with nonfamily members.

Keywords: COVID-19; Loneliness; Social isolation; Social support; Stay at home order.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Physical Distancing*
  • Social Interaction*
  • Social Isolation*
  • Social Support*