The impact of changing social support on older persons’ onset of loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

March 2, 2022


Background and Objectives:

Social distancing measures aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 are likely to have increased social isolation amongst those over 70 instructed to shield at home. This study examines the incidence of loneliness by gender over the first ten months of the COVID-19 pandemic among persons aged 70 and above in the UK, and the impact of changing social networks and perceived social support on the new occurrence of loneliness.
Research Design and Methods:

Participants (N=1,235) aged 70 and over with no reports of loneliness before the pandemic who participated in seven rounds of the Understanding Society: COVID-19 Study (April 2020-January 2021) and the main Understanding Society study conducted during 2019. Cox regression analysed the time to a new occurrence of loneliness.

Among older people who hardly ever/never felt lonely before the pandemic, 33.7% reported some degree of loneliness between April 2020-January 2021. Living in a single-person household, having received more social support before the pandemic, changes in support receipt during the pandemic and a deteriorating relationship with one’s partner during the pandemic increased the risk of experiencing loneliness. Older women were more likely than older men to report loneliness, even when living with a partner.
Discussion and Implications:

During the three COVID-related lockdowns in the UK, changes in older people’s social networks and support resulted in a significant onset of loneliness. Findings highlight the risks of shielding older persons from COVID-19 in terms of their mental well-being and the importance of strengthening intergenerational support.

Published in

The Gerontologist






Online Early

Open Access

© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.



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