Loneliness, solitude and connection: urban dwelling older adults’ experiences during the first-wave of the COVID-19 pandemic

Authors: Callista Ottoni*, University of British Columbia, Meghan Winters, Simon Fraser University
Topics: Social Geography, Urban Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: Social connectedness, loneliness, neighbours, older adults, COVID-19, health, well-being
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

PURPOSE: The rise in social isolation and loneliness in cities is a societal concern. Older adults are more vulnerable than younger adults to both social isolation and loneliness. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 in 5 older adults reported being lonely. Physical distancing directives to slow the spread of COVID-19 may increase the intensity and/or exposure to social isolation and loneliness. My research describes urban-dwelling older adults’ experiences with loneliness and social connectedness during the first-wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
METHODS: I integrate a social-constructivist and a social-ecological approach to consider how the interrelationship between individual (e.g. mobility/disability, ethnicity, socio-economic status etc.), interpersonal (relationships), and neighbourhood environment (natural and built-form) influence individuals’ experiences. I used mixed-methods, conducting surveys and semi-structured interviews with 31 older adults (ages 61-84 years) who live in Vancouver’s high density West End neighbourhood. I also collected participatory-photography data with 9 participants. I thematically analyzed interview and photograph data to identify common themes.
FINDINGS: Analysis highlights factors that support or inhibit older adults’ resiliency to maintain connectedness. Factors such as pre-existing social networks (family and neighbours), access to technology, and comfort with solitude supported positive feelings around social connectedness. Those participants with pre-existing mental and physical health issues, and limited social resources experienced compounded challenges. Themes derived from photos suggest that as participants had relatively small (apartment) living spaces, access to quality greenspace was vital for their well-being. Also, neighbours in close-proximity played key roles to help or hinder participants’ feelings of connectedness.

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