Elderly people living in poorer regions were twice as likely to feel lonely during the first lockdown than their richer neighbours, a new study has found.
Researchers from University College London (UCL) and the University of Manchester found a third of older people in the poorest 20 per cent of areas in England reported feeling isolated during the first wave of coronavirus last year.
This was more than double the number of those in the richest quintile, where only 16 per cent of the elderly similarly said they had become lonely.
The study looked at data from 4,709 men and women aged over 50 who were part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing before the pandemic and during the first two lockdowns in 2020.
As well as examining self-reported levels of social isolation, it also studied more objective measures of loneliness – actual levels of contact with friends and family.
Before the pandemic began, about a fifth (19 per cent) of participants reported high levels of social isolation. This figure noticeably rose during both the first and second lockdowns over the past year.
When it came to objective social isolation – measured by assessing how often a person actually sees their friends and family – nine per cent of the participants were deemed to be highly isolated.
Interestingly, as well as being less than half of the figure of those who felt lonely, the numbers of those who were genuinely cut off from their social circle actually decreased during the pandemic.
The study also revealed women and people in poor health were more at risk of feeling lonely and isolated during the pandemic.
The researchers noted the proliferation of video calling and other remote interactions did not entirely combat these feelings of isolation.
Lead author Dr Georgia Chatzi, from the University of Manchester, said: "All age groups had higher subjective social isolation during 2020 compared with previous years, but those aged 50-59 were most affected.
"Adults older than 70 experienced larger increases in objective social isolation in the second half of 2020 and those aged 50-59 and older than 80 felt the loneliest during the pandemic."
Professor Andrew Steptoe, from UCL’s Department of Behavioural Science and Health, added: "Social distancing strategies were very important for older adults, who were particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.
"However, this may have meant that older adults found it particularly hard to maintain social connections because of lower access to and use of digital technologies, and because of the greater likelihood of needing to socially isolate in addition to social distancing."