Determinants of social health trajectories during the COVID-19 pandemic in older adults: the Rotterdam Study

Isabelle F. Van Der Velpen, René J.F. Melis, Rowina F. Hussainali, Marieke Perry, Myrra J.F. Vernooij-Dassen, M. Arfan Ikram, Annemarie I. Luik, Meike W. Vernooij*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Objectives: The coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and accompanying lockdown restrictions impacted social life significantly. We studied associations of sociodemographic factors, mental and social health markers, and brain structure with social health trajectories during the COVID-19 pandemic. Design: Prospective longitudinal population-based cohort study. Setting: Community-dwelling inhabitants of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Participants: Repeated questionnaires including questions on social health were sent to Rotterdam Study participants from April 2020 onwards. Social health data at study baseline were available for 5017 participants (mean age: 68.7 ± 11.3; 56.9% women). Measurements: Determinants were assessed in routine Rotterdam Study follow-up (1990-2020), including global brain volumes in a subset of participants (N = 1720). We applied linear mixed models and generalized estimating equations to quantify associations between determinants and trajectories of loneliness, perceived social isolation and social connectedness over three time points from April 22nd to July 31st 2020. Results: Loneliness prevalence was 27.9% in April 2020 versus 12.6% prepandemic. Social isolation (baseline mean 4.7 ± 2.4) and loneliness scores (baseline mean 4.9 ± 1.5) decreased over time, whereas social connectedness trajectories remained stable. Depressive symptoms, female sex, prepandemic loneliness, living alone, and not owning a pet were independently associated with lower social connectedness and higher social isolation and loneliness at COVID-19 baseline, but recovery of social health was similar for all determinants. Larger intracranial volume was associated with higher social connectedness. Conclusions: Despite baseline differences for specific determinants, older adults showed similar recovery of loneliness and social isolation alongside stable social connectedness over time during the pandemic. Social health is multidimensional, especially during a global health crisis.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Psychogeriatrics
Early online date28 Jan 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Rotterdam Study is funded by Erasmus Medical Center and Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Netherlands Organization for the Health Research and Development (ZonMw), the Research Institute for Diseases in the Elderly (RIDE), the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Sports, the European Commission (DG XII), and the Municipality of Rotterdam. This work was partly supported by the JPND project Social Health And Reserve in the Dementia patient journey (SHARED) and financed through projects funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (grant numbers 733051082 and 733050831). The authors are grateful to the study participants, the staff from the Rotterdam Study, and the participating general practitioners and pharmacists.

Publisher Copyright:
©International Psychogeriatric Association 2022.


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