Loneliness, social isolation, and social support in older adults with active cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic

Katherine Clifton, Feng Gao, Jo Ann Jabbari, Mary Van Aman, Patricia Dulle, Janice Hanson, Tanya M. Wildes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a considerable impact on mental health. The social distancing and stay-at-home orders have likely also impacted loneliness, social isolation, and social support. Older adults, particularly those with comorbidities such as cancer, have a greater potential to be impacted. Here we assessed loneliness, social isolation, and social support in older adults undergoing active cancer treatment during the pandemic. Materials and methods: A mixed methods study in which quantitative data and qualitative response items were collected in parallel was conducted in 100 older adults with cancer. Participants completed a survey by telephone with a series of validated questionnaires to assess the domains of loneliness, social isolation, and social support as well as several open-ended questions. Baseline demographics and geriatric assessments were summarized using descriptive statistics. Bivariate associations between social isolation and loneliness and social support and loneliness were described using Spearman correlation coefficients. Conventional content analysis was performed on the open-ended questions. Results: In a population of older adults with cancer, 3% were noted to be severely lonely, although 27% percent screened positive as having at least one indicator of loneliness by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Three Item Loneliness Scale. There was a significant positive correlation between loneliness and social isolation (r = +0.52, p < 0.05) as well as significant negative correlation between loneliness and social support (r = −0.49, p < 0.05). There was also a significant negative correlation between loneliness and emotional support (r = −0.43, p < 0.05). There was no significant association between loneliness and markers of geriatric impairments, including comorbidities, G8 score or cognition. Discussion: Reassuringly, in this cohort we found relatively low rates of loneliness and social isolation and high rates of social support. Consistent with prior studies, loneliness, social isolation, and social support were found to be interrelated domains; however, they were not significantly associated with markers of geriatric impairments. Future studies are needed to study if cancer diagnosis and treatment may mediate changes in loneliness, social isolation, and social support in the context of the pandemic as well as beyond.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1122-1131
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Geriatric Oncology
Volume13
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Geriatrics
  • Loneliness
  • Medical oncology

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