Alex Foster-Petrocco shares research on social connections and well-being.
May 11, 2021
Vanier Institute’s In Brief Series: Mobilizing Research on Families in Canada
STUDY: Hartt, M. “COVID-19: A Lonely Pandemic,” Cities & Health (July 24, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3fANqG5.
Global health officials have recommended “social distancing” as a means of protecting vulnerable individuals from infection with the coronavirus. In “COVID-19: A Lonely Pandemic,” Maxwell Hartt explores how these safety measures have impacted how we interact with one another and highlights the potentially greater effect that this shift may be having on seniors.
Hartt emphasizes the differences between social isolation and loneliness. Social isolation itself does not necessarily result in loneliness, as some may feel lonely while having many social connections, and others may be content with few. But the sudden change in social interaction brought on by stay-at-home orders, lockdowns and quarantine is likely to disrupt the social lives of those who felt content prior to the pandemic and to intensify feelings of loneliness for those who were already experiencing them.
While Hartt notes that loneliness can affect people of all ages, he indicates that seniors can be particularly vulnerable to isolation. Many are retired and do not maintain their professional social circles after leaving the workforce, and some are widowed and/or do not live with adult children or family. During COVID lockdowns, many of the key strategies people have used to maintain their social connections are rooted in technology (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, email) that isn’t as commonly used among older age groups.
Now, as society moves in and out of lockdown, online social interaction seems to be here to stay. Hartt emphasizes that computer literacy and Internet access can help build a successful post-COVID community, but it is only a part of the picture. He proposes greater support for blended communities, like the virtual Village to Village Network, which connects local seniors and combines in-person and online activities. By encouraging seniors to build up their social circles both on- and offline, blended communities can help mitigate the effects of social isolation associated with quarantine and provide connections for in-person interaction when social distancing is relaxed.
Alex Foster-Petrocco is a professional writer with a BA in History from Carleton University.