Image of older man with cane, sitting alone

Elders who experience loneliness due to COVID-19 social distancing measures show elevated psychiatric symptoms, but there is a notable distinction between who is more likely to suffer these ill effects, say researchers.

Not only did these lonely adults show increases in depression, anxiety, and signs of trauma, but symptoms were more pronounced in study participants who perceived themselves as older than their chronological age. In contrast, participants who felt subjectively younger than their chronological age had no psychiatric symptoms related to loneliness, reported Professor Amit Shrira, from Bar-Ilan University, Israel.

“The way older adults perceive old age and their own aging may be more important to their coping and well being than their chronological age,” he said.

The takeaway? Shrira, a clinical psychologist, recommends that clinicians ensure that elders have regular conversation opportunities with others. This can help prevent the onset of deeper loneliness from the sense that no one is willing to hear their pain. Activities that allow them to share their experience and wisdom with others also help them to feel more valuable.

To cope with feelings of boredom and emptiness during isolation, Shrira suggests that reading, listening to music, solving puzzles, cooking and baking, and even the most minimal physical exercise can refresh a monotonous routine.

The study was published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.