By Serena McNiff
MONDAY, Sept. 14, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The constraints of the coronavirus pandemic have many more older adults feeling lonely this summer than in years past.
According to a new poll, many older adults are feeling isolated while they protect themselves from the virus.
In June, the National Poll on Healthy Aging surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. adults ages 50 to 80.
More than half said they sometimes or often felt isolated from others, which is more than double the 27% who reported the same feeling in a 2018 poll.
And the share of older adults who said they infrequently interacted with friends, neighbors or family outside their household also grew from the prior poll.
Nearly half of those polled in June of this year said they only interacted with these groups once a week or less, compared with the 28% who said this in 2018.
And while technology such as video chat and social media can be a great way to connect during the pandemic, those who used these tools were more likely to say they felt isolated.
A majority of the sample reported that they maintained a healthy lifestyle, with eight out of 10 saying that they were getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet. But those experiencing loneliness were less likely to report engaging in healthy behaviors such as getting outside and exercising.
Similarly, those who said they lacked companionship were more likely to report that their mental and physical health was fair or poor.
These results could point to an intersection between loneliness and health, which is an area that "needs much study," John Piette said in a University of Michigan news release. He's a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health who worked with the poll team.
"Past studies have shown that prolonged isolation has a profound negative effect on health and well-being as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day," added Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research for AARP, which helped support the poll.
"All of us can take time to reach out to older neighbors, friends and relatives in safe ways as they try to avoid the coronavirus," Piette added.