Senior Isolation May Lead to Risky Pandemic Holiday Behavior

Nearly 7 in 10 Grandparents Will See Their Grandkids This Holiday Season, Despite Dire COVID-19 Risks

Updated Nov. 20, 2020

 

Nearly 30% of grandparents say they’ll spend time with their grandchildren and families this holiday season without any COVID-19 precautions, such as masking or social distancing. Another 37% of grandparents plan to see their grandchildren over the holidays with some coronavirus-related precautionary measures in place, despite strong urging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to stay home and avoid family holiday gatherings.

This is according to our recent survey of nearly 1,000 grandparents and adult grandchildren (age 18 and older).

Our report uncovered a number of interesting findings about the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren — particularly as they’ve been affected by COVID-19 social restrictions — and shined a light on how the isolation and lack of in-person family communication during the coronavirus pandemic will play a key role affecting those family ties this holiday season.

Key Findings

  • 18% of grandparents said they’ve used prescription drugs to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness during the pandemic. 15% have used over-the-counter medications for the same reasons, while 14% say they’ve sought help from a mental health professional.

  • 37% of grandparents and 44% of grandchildren long for in-person communication with each other; the one form of family communication that’s been most seriously limited in 2020.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 grandchildren say they sporadically or never communicate with their grandparents.

  • Half of grandparents and grandchildren say they don’t communicate with each other as often as they would like. And 30% of each demographic report communicating even less during the pandemic.

Grandparents Want to See Their Grandkids, Even During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered a lot of social plans throughout 2020. Older adults are at an especially elevated risk of infection and death due to the pandemic; a fact that injects a level of serious danger into holiday family plans that traditionally may have felt safe and predictable.

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Graphic showing the 2020 holiday plans for grandparents during COVID-19

Nearly 3 out of 10 grandparents (28%) plan to see their families in the same manner as they normally would this holiday season, without any COVID-19 safety measures in place. And as mentioned above, over a third of grandparents plan to see their family and grandchildren for the holidays, but with certain COVID-19 restrictions in place.

Roughly one-quarter of grandparents said they will not see their grandchildren at all this holiday season because of the pandemic.

Most Grandparents Wish They Heard From Their Grandkids More Often

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Graphic showing how satisfied grandparents are with level of communication with grandchildren

Nearly half of grandparents and grandchildren admit they communicate with each other less often than they would like. This was a consistent response from both grandparents (49%) and grandchildren (48%).

Surprisingly, 35% of grandparents said they interact with their adult grandchildren more often than they prefer. That was nearly double the percentage of grandchildren who reported the same, and far higher than the 2% of grandparents who said the same when we conducted a similar survey in April, during the early stages of the pandemic in America. 

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Graphic showing how frequently grandparents and grandchildren are communicating during the coronavirus pandemic

Despite their overall respective desires to communicate more often, 30% of respondents from each group reported communicating even less since the pandemic began

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Graphic showing the most preferred method of communicating for grandparents and grandchildren

Half of each group (49%) said that their most preferred form of interaction is in-person communication, which is the form of communication that’s been hindered the most by the pandemic. 

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Graphic showing how often grandchildren communicate with their grandparents

Just 5% of grandchildren communicate with their grandparents multiple times per day, while 19% of grandkids say they communicate with their grandparents sporadically or never. 

Grandparents and Grandchildren Are Coping With Isolation Differently

While both grandparents and grandchildren report the desire to communicate more, the ways these two groups cope with feelings of isolation during the 2020 pandemic differ greatly.

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Graphic showing the the various methods grandparents and grandchildren cope with loneliness due to coronavirus isolation

Grandparents have largely sought out medical help for coping with their isolation, with 33% using either prescription drugs (18%) or over-the-counter drugs (15%) to deal with depression and loneliness, and 14% of grandparents seeing a mental health professional. 

Just 15% of grandparents chose to ignore those feelings. 

Among grandchildren, only 30% have turned to medical help, either by visiting a mental health professional (13%) or by using prescription drugs (10%) or over-the-counter drugs (7%). 

The biggest contrast between the two groups was that 44% of grandchildren chose to ignore their feelings of isolation and loneliness

Only 1 in 10 grandchildren and 1 in 10 grandparents report not having any increased feelings of isolation due to their lack of communication during the pandemic.

Conclusion

The coronavirus pandemic poses an ongoing and very serious threat to the physical health of older Americans. Feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression have subsequently spread across a large population of grandparents as a result of precautionary social isolation and physical distancing.

As the 2020 holiday season approaches, a large number of grandparents who long to spend time in the presence of their grandchildren may put themselves at risk of viral infection.

Increased efforts on the part of grandchildren to communicate with their grandparents, virtually or over the phone, could potentially result in less of a need for in-person family gatherings. Improved communication could also have an impact on the feelings of isolation that grandparents and grandchildren have both felt during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

Methodology

This study was conducted on November 11th, 2020, using an audience pool gathered using MTurk, a polling tool. The total survey included 951 respondents. There were 275 grandparents (aged 45 and older) and 676 grandchildren (aged 18 to 44). To qualify, grandparents had to have grandchildren that lived outside of their home, and grandchildren needed to have grandparents that lived outside their home. 

Participants were filtered based on completion time and failure to follow written instructions within the survey.

Margin of error: +/- 4% (95% confidence interval)

This survey relies on self-reported data.

Fair Use Statement

Of course we would love for you to share our work with others. We just ask that if you do, please grant us the proper citation with a link to this study so that we may be given credit for our efforts.

Research and reports

Our research reports analyze a number of issues important to seniors, from health perceptions, medical communication, health habits, and more.