Being cut off from social identity resources has shaped loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic: A longitudinal interview study with medically vulnerable older adults from the United Kingdom

Harkin, Lydia; Stuart, Avelie; Stevenson, Clifford; Talbot, Catherine; Daly, Rosie; Park, Miriam Sang‐Ah; Katz, Dmitri; Gooch, Daniel and Price, Blaine (2023). Being cut off from social identity resources has shaped loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic: A longitudinal interview study with medically vulnerable older adults from the United Kingdom. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 34(1)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.2724

Abstract

Loneliness is a pernicious problem in older adulthood, associated with physical decline and isolation from valued social groups. However, the long‐term evolving experiences of ageing, identity and loneliness have yet to be elucidated. We use a Qualitative Longitudinal Research interview approach with nine vulnerable older adults (Agemean = 79.4 years), in which five participants were interviewed twice between 2019 and 2020, and four participants were interviewed at three‐time points from 2019 to 2021. This study aims to understand the unfolding experiences of ageing, social identity and loneliness during a prolonged period of social isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic. A theoretically guided thematic analysis highlights that participants initially experience ‘Categorisation as Vulnerable and Loss of Agency’ and ‘Shrinking Social Worlds’, leading to ‘Undermining of Reciprocal Support’ and ‘Fears of Persistent Loneliness’. Findings suggest that interventions to ameliorate loneliness among older adults would benefit from addressing age‐based stereotypes and emphasising the value of reciprocal contributions that older adults can make to their networks, as well as scaffolding and enhancing social identification with new groups. Please refer to the Supplementary Material section to find this article's Community and Social Impact Statement.

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