Social and Physical Habits of Older Adults in Toronto, Ontario during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Authors: Amber DeJohn*, University of Toronto, Michael Widener, University of Toronto
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Social Geography, Canada
Keywords: Social Isolation, Loneliness, Older Adults, COVID-19, ICT
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 8
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Social isolation has been shown to influence mental and physical health among older adults, potentially being a greater determinant of mortality than smoking. With the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown in Canada, older adults in Toronto suddenly found themselves in compulsory physical isolation. To understand how these individuals were transitioning to this new social context, this study surveyed and interviewed 23 older adults living in Toronto over the phone. Due to the structure of recruitment, two broad areas of the city were included: Rexdale/Etobicoke and Midtown/Downtown. The survey collected information about living arrangements, self-rated physical and mental health, frequency of social engagement, and loneliness using the De Jong Gierveld 6-item score. Semi-structured interviews focused on changes in daily life and the use of social technologies to stay connected to friends and family (e.g., FaceTime). In addition, a subset of 8 participants were invited to wear Fitbit Inspire bands for at least one month to collect information about daily activity, sleep patterns, and exercise. Exploratory quantitative analysis of survey and Fitbit data is used to understand how feelings of loneliness, technology use, and physical activity have changed over the course of the pandemic. Qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews contextualizes quantitative findings, examining how participants feel about abrupt changes to their daily routine and the need to move their social world online. Overall, the study results provide a comprehensive tapestry of how older adults in Toronto have maintained social ties and overall health during the Coronavirus pandemic.

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