Strategies that foster social connectedness over the longer term are strengthened by prioritizing the needs of older adults who face multiple barriers to equitable social participation. This is the conclusion of research conducted with older adults in Vancouver, BC during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University partnered with the West End Seniors; Network in Vancouver, to listen to and learn from older adults. A total of 31 semi-structured interviews were conducted, and objective measures of loneliness and social connectedness were collected through surveys.
Three dimensions of the neighbourhood environment influenced social connectedness
- interactions with neighbours
- involvement with neighbourhood-based organizations
- outdoor pedestrian spaces
Seventy-one percent of participants felt a strong sense of belonging to their local community, while 39% were classified as high or extremely lonely. Many participants leveraged pre-existing social ties to maintain connections during the pandemic. However, volunteer outreach was vital for more isolated older adults. Although many participants felt lonely and isolated at times, the relative ease and accessibility with which they could connect with others in their neighbourhood environment, may have helped mitigate persistent loneliness.
The researchers challenge the dominant portrayal of older adults as simply vulnerable, concluding: “while participants indeed experienced isolation and loneliness during the pandemic, they were also resourceful, adaptable and contributed to their communities at large”.
Published By: C.A Ottoni et al. Health and Place 76 (2022)
Publication Date: June, 2022
Click here to access the journal article, “We see each other from a distance”: Neighbourhood social relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic matter for older adults’ social connectedness