Can changes in social contact (frequency and mode) mitigate low mood before and during the COVID-19 pandemic? The I-CONECT project

Chao Yi Wu, Nora Mattek, Katherine Wild, Lyndsey M. Miller, Jeffrey A. Kaye, Lisa C. Silbert, Hiroko H. Dodge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)669-676
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • resilience
  • social isolation
  • stress
  • virtual communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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