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Yueh-Hsun Wu, Peggy Nelson, Kristi Oeding, Elizabeth Anderson, Katherine Teece, Chris Curry, Jinseok Oh, Rachel Gage, Gordon E Legge; Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Social Isolation in Older Adults with Sensory Loss. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2021;62(8):3613.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Past studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness are risk factors for increasing mortality among older adults. Adults with vision loss and hearing loss are likely to experience greater social isolation and loneliness compared to healthy controls. During the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person interactions were discouraged due to the risk of infection, public-health messaging and governmental stay-at-home orders. This study was designed to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the social interactions and emotional wellbeing in adults with sensory loss.
Three groups of older adults -- vision loss (N = 13, legally blind), hearing loss (N = 24, hearing-aid or cochlear-implant users), and controls (N = 18) -- were recruited from the Twin Cities Minnesota community (mean age = 68.18, range = 57 to 80). Participants were interviewed every 4 to 6 weeks from the end of April to the end of October using the same set of questions. The initial interview at the end of April included retrospective responses to the questions regarding participants’ status at the beginning of March, prior to pandemic restrictions, and the beginning of April, after the onset of pandemic restrictions.The survey questions addressed (1) demographic and health information, (2) average number of in-person and electronic social interactions per week, (3) sense of loneliness, (4) accessibility of daily services such as grocery shopping, (5) mental health, (6) worry levels about COVID infection, and (7) impact on daily activities.
There was a significant decline of in-person social interactions in all three groups after the pandemic started, accompanied by a significant increase of electronic social interaction.From late April to October, the number of in-person interactions increased in the control and hearing-loss groups but remained depressed in the vision-loss group. The number of electronic social interactions did not change significantly during this time period.All three groups had worse scores on the patient health questionnaire (PHQ-9) after the start of the pandemic. Participants with vision loss demonstrated higher worry levels about touching things. Participants with hearing loss worried more about understanding speech from people wearing masks.
Our results have shown the widespread impact of the pandemic on social interactions and emotional wellbeing of older adults with sensory loss.
This is a 2021 ARVO Annual Meeting abstract.
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