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What to do about loneliness in old age?
With increasing age, personal dynamics and lifestyle change, which can lead to loneliness and isolation. Experienced loneliness has a negative impact on our life expectancy. But why do many older people feel lonely when they live in senior citizens' communities, for example?
The latest study by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that many older people feel lonely. The researchers also identified various ways to protect themselves from loneliness. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Aging and Mental Health".
Loneliness despite living in a community?
As older adults move increasingly into senior housing or retirement communities, the researchers attempted to identify common characteristics of people who feel lonely in such environments.
Loneliness reduces life expectancy
Loneliness rivaled smoking and obesity in the effects on shortening life expectancy, the researchers emphasize. And loneliness is a growing public health problem. It is important that the causes of loneliness are identified from the senior's perspective so that work can be done to solve the problem. This would also improve the overall health and well-being of the aging population.
Senior citizens' communities should actually promote socialization
So far, only a few published qualitative studies have dealt with the loneliness of older adults in the area of independent living in senior citizens' communities, in which common areas, planned social trips and community activities are intended to promote socialization and reduce isolation. The results of the study show that the experiences of lonely people are shaped by a number of personal and environmental factors.
Participants were interviewed in one-on-one interviews
The researchers conducted one-and-a-half hour one-on-one interviews with 30 adults, aged 67 to 92, who were part of an overall study evaluating the physical, mental, and cognitive functions of 100 older adults. These people lived in the independent housing sector in a senior housing complex in San Diego.
Loneliness is subjective
In this community facility, 85 percent of the people living there reported moderate to severe levels of loneliness. Loneliness is subjective, the researchers explain. Different people feel lonely for different reasons, although they actually have opportunities and resources for socialization.
What are risk factors for loneliness in old age?
Age-related losses and inadequate social skills are seen as primary risk factors for loneliness. Some of the people examined talked about the loss of spouses, siblings and friends as the cause of their loneliness. Others mentioned that new friends in a senior community cannot replace the deceased friends they grew up with.
Lack of life content is related to loneliness
The feeling of loneliness was often associated with a lack of purpose in life. For example, respondents said that they feel locked up and insignificant, have no connection with others, feel lost, and have no control over their lives.
What helps against loneliness?
The researchers found that wisdom and compassion are factors that prevent loneliness. For example, one resident explained that she had been doing something for other people for years when loneliness was emerging. This is a proactive act, the researchers explain.
Living alone did not automatically mean being lonely
Other protective factors were the acceptance of aging and being alone. Participants reported that they have accepted the aging process and feel alone, but this does not mean that they are lonely. Older people should be proud that they are able to live alone.
We need to develop effective countermeasures
It is of the utmost importance that the welfare of the elderly is taken care of. The results are relevant to better understand the loneliness that occurs in senior housing and other facilities so that effective measures can be developed. (as)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Alejandra Morlett Paredes, Ellen E. Lee, Lisa Chik, Saumya Gupta, Barton W. Palmer et al .: Qualitative study of loneliness in a senior housing community: the importance of wisdom and other coping strategies, in Aging and Mental Health (published 10.01 .2020), Aging and Mental Health