Methods: Data used were from the cross-sectional surveys administered via QuestionPro from October 2020 to August 2021 in Texas, Tennessee, and Alabama (N = 1,079). The indicators of COVID-related experiences included 17 binary items, such as disrupted working and feeling isolated (0 = “no”, 1 = “yes”). Age was categorized into five groups: 65-74 (reference), 18-34, 35-49, 50-64, and 75 years or older. The COVID-19 influences on the relationships with family, friends, and community were separately measured on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 = "a lot of negative influence” to 5 = "a lot of positive influence”. Control variables included participants’ gender, race, ethnicity, educational level, and marital status. Latent class analysis and multinomial logistic regressions were conducted using Mplus 8.3 and Stata 15.
Results: Three latent classes were identified and were named low overall impact (38.76% of respondents), moderate overall impact with high emotional distress (46.32% of respondents), and severe overall impact (14.92%). Results of multinomial logistic regressions showed that compared to young-old adults aged between 65-74, younger populations (i.e., aged 18-34, 35-49, 50-64) had higher odds of being in severe impact versus low impact class. Those whose relationships with the community were positively influenced by COVID-19 had lower odds of being in moderate over low impact group. Those whose relationships with family were positively impacted by COVID-19 had lower odds of being in severe versus low impact group. Positive COVID-19 influence on relationships with friends and community were respectively more important for young-old adults than for old-old adults (aged 75+) in lowering the likelihood of being in severe over low impact group.
Conclusions and implications: These results highlighted the strengths and resilience of older adults in responding to the unprecedented impacts of COVID-19, and the heterogeneity among older populations in benefiting from different social connections during the pandemic, which may be explained from a life course perspective and socioemotional selectivity theory. Based on these findings, social work practitioners can develop age-specific strategies and incorporate social relationships into interventions to promote healthy coping and recovery in the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic.