Article Text

Original research
Loneliness among older adults in the community during COVID-19: a cross-sectional survey in Canada
  1. Rachel D Savage1,2,
  2. Wei Wu1,
  3. Joyce Li1,
  4. Andrea Lawson1,
  5. Susan E Bronskill1,2,3,
  6. Stephanie A Chamberlain4,
  7. Jim Grieve5,
  8. Andrea Gruneir1,2,4,
  9. Christina Reppas-Rindlisbacher1,6,
  10. Nathan M Stall1,3,6,
  11. Paula A Rochon1,2,3,6
  1. 1Women's College Research Institute, Women's College Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2ICES, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  3. 3Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  4. 4Department of Family Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  5. 5RTOERO, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  6. 6Division of Geriatric Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Paula A Rochon; paula.rochon{at}


Objective Physical distancing and stay-at-home measures implemented to slow transmission of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) may intensify feelings of loneliness in older adults, especially those living alone. Our aim was to characterise the extent of loneliness during the first wave in a sample of older adults living in the community and assess characteristics associated with loneliness.

Design Online cross-sectional survey between 6 May and 19 May 2020.

Setting Ontario, Canada.

Participants Convenience sample of members of a national retired educators’ organisation.

Primary outcome measures Self-reported loneliness, including differences between women and men.

Results 4879 respondents (71.0% women; 67.4% 65–79 years) reported that in the preceding week, 43.1% felt lonely at least some of the time, including 8.3% who felt lonely always or often. Women had increased odds of loneliness compared with men, whether living alone (adjusted OR (aOR) 1.52, 95% CI 1.13 to 2.04) or with others (2.44, 95% CI 2.04 to 2.92). Increasing age group decreased the odds of loneliness (aOR 0.69 (95% CI 0.59 to 0.81) 65–79 years and 0.50 (95% CI 0.39 to 0.65) 80+ years compared with <65 years). Living alone was associated with loneliness, with a greater association in men (aOR 4.26, 95% CI 3.15 to 5.76) than women (aOR 2.65, 95% CI 2.26 to 3.11). Other factors associated with loneliness included: fair or poor health (aOR 1.93, 95% CI 1.54 to 2.41), being a caregiver (aOR 1.18, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.37), receiving care (aOR 1.47, 95% CI 1.19 to 1.81), high concern for the pandemic (aOR 1.55, 95% CI 1.31 to 1.84), not experiencing positive effects of pandemic distancing measures (aOR 1.94, 95% CI 1.62 to 2.32) and changes to daily routine (aOR 2.81, 95% CI 1.96 to 4.03).

Conclusions While many older adults reported feeling lonely during COVID-19, several characteristics—such as being female and living alone—increased the odds of loneliness. These characteristics may help identify priorities for targeting interventions to reduce loneliness.

  • COVID-19
  • public health

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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  • Contributors RDS, PAR and JG conceived the study and its design. RDS took the lead in the planning of the study and in writing the manuscript. JL, AL and JG contributed to data collection by creating, pretesting and administering the survey. WW performed the statistical analysis. RDS, SEB, SAC, JG, AG, CRR, NMS and PAR contributed to the content of the survey instrument. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the results and critically revised the final manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.