Background To halt the spread of COVID-19, Austria implemented a 7-week ’shut-down’ of public life in March/April 2020 which was followed by a gradual withdrawal of these restriction measures in May/June 2020. We expect that the ensuing reduction in social contacts led to in- creased loneliness among older adults (60+).
Methods We conducted three analyses to assess the association between COVID-19 public health restriction measures and loneliness: (1) A comparison between pre-pandemic (SHARE: 2013-2017) and pandemic (May 2020) levels of loneliness (UCLA-3 scale), (2) an analysis of the correlation between being affected by COVID-19 restriction measures and loneliness based on cross-sectional survey data from early May 2020, and (3) a longitudinal analysis of weekly changes in loneliness (Corona panel data) from late March to early June 2020.
Results We found (1) loneliness levels to have increased in 2020 in comparison with previous years, (2) an association between the number of restriction measures older adults reported to be affected from and loneliness, and (3) that loneliness was higher during ’shut-down’ compared to the subsequent re-opening phase, particularly among those who live alone.
Discussion Our results provide evidence that COVID-19 restriction measures in Austria have in- deed resulted in increased levels of loneliness among older adults. However, these effects seem to be short-lived, and thus we do not expect strong negative consequences for older adults’ mental health downstream. Nonetheless, effects of longer and/or repeated future restriction measures aiming at social distancing should be closely monitored.