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Wu CY, Mattek N, Wild K, Miller LM, Kaye JA, Silbert LC, Dodge HH. Can changes in social contact (frequency and mode) mitigate low mood before and during the COVID-19 pandemic? The I-CONECT project. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2022 Mar 1; 70(3):669-676.
BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global outbreak allowed a natural experiment to observe how older adults changed social patterns and how it affected their emotional well-being. We studied the frequency and modes of social contact and their effects on older adults'' mood before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. DESIGN: Phone-based surveys were administered weekly before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. SETTING: Participants were recruited from Portland, Oregon, and Detroit, Michigan. PARTICIPANTS: Older adults = 75?years old (n = 155, age = 81.0?±?4.5, 72.3% women) were included in a randomized controlled trial, the Internet-Based Conversational Engagement Clinical Trial (I-CONECT). MEASUREMENTS: Low mood was self-reported as feeling downhearted or blue for three or more days in the past week. Social contact was self-reported by the amount of time spent in interactions, with whom (family, friends, others), and via which modes (in-person, phone/video call, text/email/letter). RESULTS: A total of 5525?weeks of data were derived from 155 participants. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, average social interaction time spent in-person, on phone/video call, and via text/email/letter was 406, 141, and 68?min/week, respectively. During the COVID-19 pandemic, time spent in-person was reduced by 135?min/week, while time spent via phone/video call and writing increased by 33 and 26?mins/week, respectively. In-person family contact was associated with less low mood regardless of the pandemic (odds ratio = 0.92, p? < 0.05). There was a COVID-19?×?text/email/letter with friends interaction (odds ratio = 0.77, p = 0.03), suggesting that during the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase of 1?h of writing with friends per week was associated with a 23% decrease in the likelihood of experiencing low mood. CONCLUSION: The lost in-person time relating to COVID-19 restrictions tended to be partially compensated for with increased calls and writing time, although overall social interaction time decreased. During the COVID-19 pandemic, at least two types of social interactions (writing to friends and in-person family time) showed promise for mitigating low mood for older adults with limited social resources.