Posts Tagged "social isolation"

Older Americans Felt Lonely in Pandemic

Last year, millions of older Americans went into hiding to protect themselves from the ravages of COVID-19.

Did the isolation take a psychological toll? How did they respond to infrequent contact with friends and family? Researchers in a recent webinar tried to understand the unique phenomenon of loneliness in a modern pandemic.

Over 50 and lonelyWhat we know from the National Poll on Healthy Aging in the early months of the pandemic is that more than half of older workers and retirees between 50 and 80 said they “felt isolated from others” – twice the levels seen in 2018.

In a different survey conducted every two months for most of last year, loneliness was “common and it was incredibly persistent during the first six months of the pandemic,” said Lindsay Kobayashi, a University of Michigan epidemiologist involved in the COVID-19 Coping Study, a survey of adults over age 55.

Two groups in particular suffered rates of loneliness that were twice as high as their peers: older people who live alone and residents of senior communities and nursing homes, where staff often separated the residents or confined them to their rooms in an attempt to protect their health.

A larger share of Black Americans also expressed feelings of loneliness than whites and Hispanics, and women were generally more lonely than men. “I’m very afraid that we are going to get so used to being alone, on our own, by ourselves that we won’t reconnect the way we need to,” a 76-year-old woman told the Coping Study researchers last fall.

But the news isn’t all bad. Feelings of loneliness, especially among the oldest retirees, had subsided a bit as early as November as news reports emerged that the vaccines were effective. Older people also found ways to cope with their isolation, and some even felt the pandemic gave them a renewed sense of purpose, according to a pair of studies in The Gerontologist. …Learn More

Isolated birds

Isolation May Worsen Impact of Disability

A danger for working-age people with disabilities is that they become socially isolated, which can cause a further deterioration in their health and ability to function.

A good example of this vicious cycle is people with severe arthritis. If joint pain makes walking more difficult, it can limit one’s ability to do things with friends or be out in public, which means more social isolation and less exercise to ease the pain’s disabling effects.

A new Mathematica study connects this phenomenon to the sharp rise in the share of Social Security disability awards going to people with arthritis, back pain, and other musculoskeletal conditions.

Between 1997 and 2017, there was a slight increase, to 13.4 percent, in the share of Americans with musculoskeletal conditions who reported being socially isolated, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.

Discomfort in social settings is also present in the general population – but at about half the rate, or 6 percent of adults.

Another contributor to social isolation is cognitive impairment, which includes confusion and poor memory. Cognitive impairments are also on the rise among people with arthritis and related conditions. The increase can’t solely be attributed to the aging of the U.S. population either, because the analysis controlled for age in order to eliminate its effects.

To understand the role of social isolation in disability, the researchers point to the vicious cycle between the two.

“Whether social isolation is exacerbating disability or disability is exacerbating social isolation,” they said, “the contributing limitations are risk factors” that will worsen a disability that already exists. …Learn More

Depressed woman

Why the Mix of Disabilities is Changing

The mix of disabilities for people receiving federal disability insurance has changed in important ways that often reflect trends in the health of the population as a whole.

Two disabling conditions that have become a growing share of Social Security’s benefit awards in recent decades are mood disorders and various musculoskeletal problems, which include arthritis and back pain.

First, consider mood disorders. They range from depression and bipolar disorder to irritability and seasonal affective disorder, and they can hamper someone’s ability to work. Mirroring the rising share of awards for mood disorders, their prevalence in the population has edged up from 54.6 percent of adults in 1997 to 56.2 percent in 2017, according to a study by Mathematica, a research organization.

Second, disability awards to people with musculoskeletal problems like arthritis and back pain have increased dramatically. These conditions are often aggravated by carrying excess weight, so the rise in cases aligns with the researchers’ estimate that the adult obesity rate has surged from about 20 percent to 31 percent. 

But a related finding about musculoskeletal conditions is more difficult to explain. Despite the growth in disability awards involving these conditions, the share of the population afflicted by them – about a third – hasn’t changed much, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.

The researchers found one clue to this apparent contradiction in a separate analysis indicating that this population’s ability to work may be deteriorating over time. …Learn More