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BACKGROUND: During the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing and reduced social contact may have affected older adults' health. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the perceived impact of social distancing on older adults' health and explore the association between social contact and health outcomes. DESIGN: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses of the OPAL cohort study. SUBJECTS: Community dwelling older adults. METHODS: We sent questionnaires to participants of an existing cohort study (n = 4328). Questions included the amount and type of social contact, and how often they went outside. Participants rated the impact of social distancing on their health. Sociodemographic factors and quality of life were available from previous questionnaires. We examined quality of life prior to and during the pandemic and explored the cross-sectional relationship between social contact and health using logistic regression. RESULTS: There were 3856/4328 (89%) questionnaires returned. EQ-5D scores changed little compared to pre-pandemic scores but 25% of participants reported their overall health had worsened. The telephone was the most used method of contact (78%). Video calls were used least with 35% of participants not using them or having no access to them. 13% of respondents never went outside. Lower levels of contact were associated with increased risk of reporting worse health (Odds ratio (OR) 1.04 (95% CI 1.01-1.08)). Those experiencing financial strain and who spent less time outside experienced the largest increase in risk of reporting perceived worsened overall health. Those reporting a strain to get by financially were 4 times more likely to report worsened health than those who described themselves as quite comfortably off (OR 4.00 (95% CI 1.86-8.16)). Participants who reported never going outside were twice as likely to report worsened health compared to those who went outside daily (OR 2.00 (95% CI 1.57-2.54)). CONCLUSIONS: Less contact with other people was associated with perceived worsening in overall health. Although many older people reported using online technology, such as video calls, a substantial proportion were not using them. Older people facing financial strain were more likely to report worsened health, highlighting the impact of social inequalities during the pandemic. Going outside less was also associated with perceived worsened health.

Original publication




Journal article


Bmc public health

Publication Date





COVID-19 pandemic, Mental health, Older people, Physical health, Social contact, Humans, COVID-19, Female, Male, Aged, Independent Living, Cross-Sectional Studies, Physical Distancing, Quality of Life, Surveys and Questionnaires, Aged, 80 and over, Longitudinal Studies, Cohort Studies, Pandemics, Health Status