Posted on Jan 20, 2020, 4 p.m.
According to a recent study published in Aging and Mental Health the best way to overcome the loneliness and isolation of senior community living is to have wise expectations about this stage of life, accept things will not be exactly the same as in younger years, to try to move forward with your independence and make new acquaintances at the many social events which should help prevent feelings of being lonely in a crowd.
To investigate why so many older adults experience loneliness and detachment in retirement communities which typically abound with busy social calendars and plenty of common areas for gatherings researchers from the University of California interviewed 30 adults aged 67-92 as a part of an overall study of the physical, mental and cognitive functions of 100 seniors living in the independent living area of a senior living facility in San Diego.
“Loneliness rivals smoking and obesity in its impact on shortening longevity,” says lead study author Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the university. “It is a growing public health concern, and it’s important that we identify the underlying causes of loneliness from the seniors’ own perspectives so we can help resolve it and improve the overall health, well-being and longevity of our aging population.”
85 participants revealed they experienced moderate to severe levels of loneliness during 90 minute interviews, reasons were unique, but some common themes were established among those who were most at risk and those who fared better. The greatest predictor of loneliness was found to be age related loss such as that of a spouse, friend, or sibling combined with poor social skills that limit the ability to form new relationships.
Another common theme among those experiencing high levels of loneliness was a feeling of being disoriented in a retirement community and they felt life had become hopeless, without meaning, loss of control, and purposeless.
“Loneliness is subjective,” said Jeste. “Different people feel lonely for different reasons despite having opportunities and resources for socialization. This is not a one size fits all topic.”
On the positive side of living in a retired community participants who were more realistic and accepting of the aging process and those who enjoyed living independently were much less likely to experience loneliness; wisdom and compassion were found to be factors to help prevent loneliness.
“One participant spoke of a technique she had used for years, saying, ‘If you’re feeling lonely, then go out and do something for somebody else.’ That’s proactive,” notes Jeste. “Another resident responded, ‘I may feel alone, but that doesn’t mean I’m lonely. I’m proud I can live by myself.' Another responded, “I’ve accepted the aging process. I’m not afraid of it. I used to climb mountains. I want to keep moving, even if I have to crawl. I have to be realistic about getting older, but I consider and accept life as a transition.”
It is hoped that this study will help to assist people living in senior facilities with loneliness and point to better interventions to help improve the overall health of the aging population. Estimates are that by 2029 over 20% of the American population will be aged 65+.
“It is paramount that we address the well-being of our seniors,” concludes Jeste. “They are friends, parents and grandparents of the younger generations. Our study is relevant to better understand loneliness within senior housing and other settings to so we can develop effective interventions.”
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.