Objectives: Loneliness is associated with increased risks of adverse health outcomes among middle-aged and older adults. We estimated the prevalence of loneliness and identified key sociodemographic, employment, living, and health-related risk factors for loneliness among adults aged ≥55 during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, when much of the country was under shelter-in-place orders.
Methods: We collected data from online questionnaires in the COVID-19 Coping Study, a national study of 6938 US adults aged ≥55 from April 2 through May 31, 2020. We estimated the population-weighted prevalence of loneliness (scores ≥6 of 9 on the 3-item UCLA Loneliness Scale), overall and by sociodemographic, employment, living, and health-related factors. We used population-weighted modified Poisson regression models to estimate prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% CIs for the associations between these factors and loneliness, adjusting for age, sex, race, ethnicity, and education level.
Results: Overall, we estimated that 29.5% (95% CI, 27.9%31.3%) of US adults aged ≥55 were considered high in loneliness in April and May 2020. In population-weighted adjusted models, loneliness was the most prevalent among those who reported depression, who were not married or in a relationship, who lived alone, and who were unemployed at the onset of the pandemic.
Conclusions: We identified subpopulations of middle-aged and older adults who were vulnerable to loneliness during a period when COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders were in place across most of the country. These insights may inform the allocation of resources to mitigate an unintended health consequence during times of restricted activity.
Keywords: COVID-19; aging; isolation; loneliness; pandemic.