A Comparison of Loneliness and Social Support among South African Older Persons during a Pandemic





loneliness, social support, older persons, pandemic, strengths perspective, gerontological social work


Pandemics, such as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in March 2020, have a negative impact on older persons’ (60 years and older) physical and mental health. Research on the effects of Covid-19 on older persons’ experience of loneliness and self-reported social support has predominately originated from the Global North. Applying the strengths perspective, the present study aimed to determine and compare the loneliness and social support among South African older persons during a pandemic. A cross-sectional survey was operationalised to collect data from community-dwelling older persons (n = 139) and older persons residing in residential care facilities (n = 99) through purposive sampling across five South African provinces. A loneliness scale was used to measure the respondents’ overall loneliness, including emotional and social loneliness. A social support scale was used to measure the availability of social support across four domains. The survey focused on social contact, number of close friends/relatives, socio-demographics, and subjective physical and mental health, respectively. Independent samples t-tests were run to explore any statistically significant differences between the two groups. Community-dwelling older persons were found to present with marginally higher levels of loneliness. No statistically significant differences were identified between the two groups. Community-dwelling older persons measured higher on social support than their peers in residential care. Two domains of social support, namely, affectionate support and positive social interaction, were found to be significantly different (p < 0.01). Based on the study’s results, implications for strengths-based gerontological social work services in resource-constrained settings during a pandemic were delineated.


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Author Biographies

Stephan Geyer, University of Pretoria

Associate Professor, Department of Social Work and Criminology

Barbra Teater, City University of New York

Professor, College of Staten Island, Graduate Center


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How to Cite

Geyer, Stephan, and Barbra Teater. 2024. “A Comparison of Loneliness and Social Support Among South African Older Persons During a Pandemic”. Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development 36 (1):18 pages. https://doi.org/10.25159/2708-9355/14599.



Received 2023-09-06
Accepted 2024-02-26
Published 2024-05-15