Many people suffered from loneliness and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic (Havnen et al., 2020; Luchetti et al., 2020). However, previous studies have shown that protective factors such as resilience and family cohesion may help people move forward despite distressing situations (Choi et al., 2022; PeConga et al., 2020; Yoon and Choi., 2021). Recent research has also found that resilience and family cohesion acted as protective factors against negative psychological outcomes during COVID -19 for middle-aged and older adults (Yoon and Choi, 2021). However, little research has investigated the associations for both older and younger populations. This study investigated loneliness, anxiety and protective factors among younger and older age groups in seriously infected areas during COVID-19 in South Korea. Perceived physical health (health hereafter), living arrangements, and income were also investigated as control variables. We aimed to investigate (1) the impact of loneliness on anxiety (2) protective factors against anxiety, and (3) the moderating effects of age on the associations for younger and older age groups.
Data were collected from 1,000 adults (ages 19 to 76) living in severely impacted COVID-19 outbreak areas in South Korea from July to August 2020. The dependent variable, anxiety (α = .922), was measured by GAD-7 (Spitzer et al., 2006). Loneliness (α = .855) was measured by three items (Hughes et al., 2004), resilience (α=.837) was measured using the Brief Resilience Scale (Smith et al., 2008), and family cohesion (α=.894) was measured using four items of the Brief Family Relationship Scale (Timg Fok et al., 2014). The younger group (19 to 40) was coded as “0” (n=375), and the older group (41 to 76) was coded as “1” (n=625).
Health, living arrangements, and income were also investigated. Missing values were imputed by employing maximum likelihood estimation using SPSS 27 (Enders, 2010). A multi-group path analysis using Amos 25 was employed and maximum likelihood (ML) estimation was used for data analysis. Measurement invariance was examined by comparing unconstrained and fully constrained models. Both models fit. For the direct and indirect effects, 95% confidence intervals were estimated using bootstrapping (a bootstrap sample of 1,000 was specified).
The older group showed higher resilience and family cohesion, and lower loneliness and anxiety than the younger group. Loneliness was positively associated with anxiety for both groups, but loneliness was significantly associated with family cohesion for the older group. There was no significant relationship between loneliness and family cohesion for the younger group. Resilience was significantly associated with family cohesion for both groups. However, the impact of resilience on family cohesion was significantly greater for the older group. For indirect effects, resilience mediated loneliness and anxiety for both groups. However, family cohesion mediated loneliness and anxiety for only the older group.
Conclusions and Implications
Healthcare professionals should develop programs and services to reduce loneliness and anxiety and increase protective factors such as resilience and family cohesion, focusing on age differences during challenging times like COVID-19.