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Loneliness and the Elderly

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Recently, there has been a lot of publicity about a “loneliness” epidemic sweeping through the older generations.  While it serves a purpose to remind us to take time out of our busy lives and check in with the older generations, a new study has analyzed surveys and data that report it’s not that the older generations surrounding us are more lonely than in the past—it’s just that there are more older adults in our population, bringing more awareness to the needs of senior citizens.

                The research team focuses on surveys which were conducted in 2005-2006, 2010-2011, and 2015-2016.  The first survey was conducted with American adults born 1920-1947, and the second survey included those adults still living from the first survey and their spouses/partners.  The third survey included adults born 1948-1965 and all the living participants from the previous surveys.

                The surveys covered information about their subjective loneliness, health status, size of family, and friends they felt were close to them.  Between ages 50-74, loneliness actually decreased; it increased past age 75.  However, there was no difference in loneliness levels between earlier generations and the baby boomer generations.

                Another study from the Netherlands asked adults born 1908-1957 to participate in a similar survey which was long-term, and they found that older adults were actually not as lonely as the elderly from earlier generations.  The researchers attribute this to advances in modern living and medicine which help the aging population feel more control.

                The older adults who took time to maintain social connections, make goals for themselves, stay active by going to social circles, and exercise were significantly less lonely and lived more fulfilling lives.  Despite the shrinking social aspects in current life due to social media, the results show that older adults are functioning and flourishing when they take their happiness seriously.

References

Hawkley, Louise C., et al. “Are U.S. Older Adults Getting Lonelier? Age, Period, and Cohort Differences.” Psychology and Aging, vol. 34, no. 8, pp. 1144–1157., doi: https://doi.org/10.1037/pag0000365.

Suanet, Bianca, and Theo G. Van Tilburg. “Loneliness Declines across Birth Cohorts: The Impact of Mastery and Self-Efficacy.” Psychology and Aging, vol. 34, no. 8, pp. 1134–1143., doi:https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/pag0000357.

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