Risk and Protective Factors of Loneliness among Older Adults: The Significance of Social Isolation and Quality and Type of Contact

Soc Work Public Health. 2021 Feb 17;36(2):128-141. doi: 10.1080/19371918.2020.1866140. Epub 2020 Dec 28.


Loneliness has a significant impact on the health and well-being of older people, including an increased risk of mortality. This cross-sectional study explored possible risk and protective factors that can help explain loneliness and emotional and social loneliness in a sample of community-dwelling older adults (N = 477). The survey incorporated a standardized scale of loneliness and items to assess type and quality of contact with others, community support, social isolation, physical health, cognitive health, and functional ability. Bivariate and multivariate analyses explored the factors that contributed to loneliness, emotional loneliness, and social loneliness. Results indicated overall quality of contact with others, use of phone contact, and social isolation was significant in all three regressions; other significant variables were different for each analysis. The findings support social work and public health recommendations for addressing loneliness, particularly within the current climate of "social distancing" under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: Loneliness; emotional loneliness; older adults; public health emergency; social isolation; social loneliness.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • COVID-19*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Protective Factors
  • Public Health
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires