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Anxiety and loneliness among older people living in residential care facilities or receiving home care services in Sweden during the COVID-19 pandemic: a national cross-sectional study

BMC Geriatr. 2022 Dec 1;22(1):927. doi: 10.1186/s12877-022-03544-z.


BACKGROUND: Older people were subjected to significant restrictions on physical contacts with others during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing impacts older people’s experiences of anxiety and loneliness. Despite a large body of research on the pandemic, there is little research on its effects on older people in residential care facilities (RCF) and in home care services (HCS), who are the frailest of the older population. We aimed to investigate the effect of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in March-May 2020 on experiences of anxiety and loneliness among older people living in RCF or receiving HCS and the impact of the progression of the pandemic on these experiences.

METHODS: A retrospective cross-sectional design using data from the national user satisfaction survey (March – May 2020) by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare. Survey responses were retrieved from 27,872 older people in RCF (mean age 87 years) and 82,834 older people receiving HCS (mean age 84 years). Proportional-odds (cumulative logit) model was used to estimate the degree of association between dependent and independent variables.

RESULTS: Loneliness and anxiety were more prevalent among the older persons living in RCF (loneliness: 69%, anxiety: 63%) than those receiving HCS (53% and 47%, respectively). Proportional odds models revealed that among the RCF and HCS respondents, the cumulative odds ratio of experiencing higher degree of anxiety increased by 1.06% and 1.04%, respectively, and loneliness by 1.13% and 1.16%, respectively, for 1% increase in the COVID-19 infection rate. Poor self-rated health was the most influential factor for anxiety in both RCF and HCS. Living alone (with HCS) was the most influential factor affecting loneliness. Experiences of disrespect from staff were more strongly associated with anxiety and loneliness in RCF than in HCS.

CONCLUSION: Older people in RCF or receiving HCS experienced increasing levels of anxiety and loneliness as the first wave of the pandemic progressed. Older people’ mental and social wellbeing should be recognized to a greater extent, such as by providing opportunities for social activities. Better preparedness for future similar events is needed, where restrictions on social interaction are balanced against the public health directives.

PMID:36456904 | DOI:10.1186/s12877-022-03544-z

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