Background The geriatric population is supposed to be at high risk for psychological distress as well as adverse outcomes and mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study aimed to investigate the levels of depression, anxiety, death anxiety and life satisfaction levels and factors related to life satisfaction in individuals aged 65 years and older during the pandemic and to compare these variables between nursing home (NH) and community-dwelling older adults. Method This study has a cross-sectional and descriptive design, and a total of 133 nursing NH and community-dwelling older adults were enrolled in the study. Turkish death anxiety scale (TDAS), life satisfaction scale (SLS) and depression anxiety stress scale-21 (DASS-21) were used for the assessment. Results The majority of the older adults had no or mild depression, anxiety and stress symptoms in spite of the prolonged confinements, and were slightly satisfied with their lives. However, depression, anxiety, stress and TDAS levels were higher in participants aged 80 years and older. Residents of NHs had higher TDAS, depression and anxiety levels and lower SLS levels than community-dwelling older adults. Participants who were meeting their children and/or grandchildren less than 2 h a week, were found to have significantly lower SLS and higher depression scores. The increase in depression and TDAS scores predicted a decrease in SLS scores in older adults. Conclusions As NH resident older adults have higher psychological distress and decreased life satisfaction due to the social isolation caused by the prolonged confinements, NH staff should be regularly informed on both preventive measures and mental health consequences of the pandemic, and should be trained for basic therapeutic interventions. Older adults should be supported to use telecommunication technologies to contact their families and friends, and participate in safe and accessible person-centred activity programs.