Background: To halt the spread of COVID-19, Austria implemented a 7-week 'lockdown' in March/April 2020. We assess whether the ensuing reduction in social contacts led to increased loneliness among older adults (60+).
Methods: Three analyses were conducted: (i) a comparison between pre-pandemic (SHARE: 2013-17) and pandemic (May 2020) levels of loneliness (UCLA-3 scale), (ii) an assessment of the cross-sectional correlation between being affected by COVID-19 restriction measures and loneliness (May 2020) and (iii) a longitudinal analysis of weekly changes (March-June 2020) in loneliness (Corona panel).
Results: We found (i) increased loneliness in 2020 compared with previous years, (ii) a moderate positive association between the number of restriction measures older adults were affected from and their loneliness and (iii) that loneliness was higher during 'lockdown' compared to the subsequent re-opening phase, particularly among those who live alone.
Conclusions: We found evidence that COVID-19 restriction measures in Austria have indeed resulted in increased levels of loneliness among older adults. However, these effects seem to be short-lived, and thus no strong negative consequences for older adults' mental health are expected. Nonetheless, the effects on loneliness, and subsequent mental health issues, could be both more long-lasting and severe if future restriction measures are enacted repeatedly and/or over longer time periods.
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Public Health Association. All rights reserved.