The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of older adults. They have been encouraged to stay at home, and restrictions have limited social interactions and increased social isolation. Social isolation is associated with increased emotional distress and depressive symptoms in older adults. Despite the increase in isolation during the pandemic, there have been limited studies that examine differences in mental well-being between household compositions. The purpose of this study is to investigate whether religious belief, networks, and technology usage influence the mental well-being of older adults in couple- and single-households during COVID-19. It is important to understand how various factors impact mental health for older adults living in different household types during the pandemic as this may guide future interventions.
This study used Health and Retirement Survey COVID Project data. The sample was comprised of respondents aged 60 or older (N=1,249). The independent variables consisted of age, gender, education, race, ethnicity (Hispanic), perceived health, household income, digital technology usage, religious belief, and network with a spouse, children, other family members, and friends. This study adopted scales of mental health, digital technology usage, religious belief, and networks from HRS. Simple regression analyses were conducted with couple- and single-households to examine what factors affected older adults’ mental health during COVID-19.
The study found that perceived health, religious belief, network with other family members, and digital technology usage have different impacts on the mental health of older adults. In couple households (n=795), health [b=1.7], digital technology usage [b=0.3], and network with spouse [b=0.2], children [b=0.2], and friends [b=0.2] had significant positive effects on mental health [p<.05]. Regarding the single older adults (n=448), their mental health had positive relationships with perceived physical health [b=1.9], religious belief [b=0.1], and network with children [b=0.2], other family members [b=0.2], and friends [b=0.3, p<.05].
Conclusion and Implications
This study contributes to a more complete understanding of what factors positively impact mental health outcomes in older adults during the pandemic and how perceived health, networks, religious belief, and digital technology usage impact individuals in different household types. The study results indicate that perceived good health status had a positive impact on older adults’ mental health in both household types. The findings suggest that technology use and closer relationships with a spouse, children, and friends are associated with better mental health outcomes in couple households. On the other hand, closer relationships with children, friends, and other family members and religious belief were important for the mental well-being in single households. Using technology had no significant relationship to mental health in single households. However, since the pandemic began, research has revealed that technology use has a significantly positive capacity to promote mental health in couple households. Further research is needed to understand factors related to technology use in single older adults. Increasing technology use may help prevent isolation and improve mental well-being in single households.