COVID-19, Older Adults, and Loneliness

Older adults have small but close social networks.

Posted Mar 11, 2020

Older adults are at increased risk of complications from COVID-19. Many government and health-care leaders recommend that older adults reduce contact with other persons.

In the short-run, this advice is prudent: Protecting the physical well-being of older adults is of the utmost importance.

But isn’t this also cruel? Aren’t older adults already suffering from too much loneliness?

In fact, they are not.

Most older adults are not more lonely than younger or midlife adults. In fact, adolescents and younger persons may be lonelier than their grandparents.

The number of friends and acquaintances – that is, the number of persons in our social networks – decline with age. In other words, older adults do have fewer friends. But the smaller social networks of older adults are close and strong. Older adults hone their social contacts to include more persons who bring joy and meaning to their lives and to include fewer casual acquaintances.

Older adults choose to spend time with persons that matter.

In the long-run, after COVID-19 has runs its course and is (hopefully) in our rear-view mirror, I expect older adults to pick up where they left off and to enjoy their rich social networks. In the meantime, we all might benefit from taking a page from their playbook and nurture our closest relationships at this time of heightened anxiety.