The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the way people live their lives. It has limited physical contact and trapped people within their homes. During the nationwide lockdown, the government had limited the availability of transport that led to people not being able to visit their loved ones for almost a year. People could see or contact their family members and friends only virtually. However, a recent study has revealed that virtual contact has affected older people the most. In India, many people live far from their families because of their education or jobs. most people were unable to visit their families even once during the lockdown. This situation increased the number of virtual contact people generally had in the past years.
Older people, who had more virtual contact during the pandemic, experienced a greater sense of loneliness and suffered from various psychological issues, according to a report. Renowned sociologist Mr. Karan Nath analyzed the increased usage of virtual contact. He found that there is a notable increase in loneliness and mental illnesses among Indians following the outbreak of COVID-19. The research report has also found that virtual interactions such as video calls, phone calls, online audio chat, and texting have largely replaced in-person contacts during this pandemic. But the increased number of virtual interactions was not at all helpful as an alternative for face-to-face interaction.
When asking about his research, Mr. Karan Nath said, “The specific age group between 50-60 had more virtual interactions than others during this lockdown.” He interviewed 500 older people, among which more than 300 suffered from loneliness during this pandemic. Mr. Nath further said that loneliness has adversely affected the mental health of older people.
Despite rapid digitization in India, virtual means of interaction can never replace in-person contact in supporting older people’s mental well-being, said renowned psychologist Dr. Ramanendu Aiyaar of Chennai university. He added, “I think that digital contact fails to combat loneliness for the older people because of several complex factors like digital access, device affordance, tech know-how, and potential digital stress.” He further informed that the older people who reported having more in-person communication with their families and friends during this pandemic had better general mental well-being. “Indian policymakers and practitioners need to take measures to mitigate the unintended implications of household-centered pandemic responses for people’s psychological health,” said Dr. Aiyaar.
The data was collected from 500 older people aged 60 or above in India who were surveyed both before and during the pandemic. The COVID-19 outbreak limited the face-to-face communication between households, particularly for older people, because of their high risk of being infected.
*(Names and places changed due to privacy concerns)