Loneliness is Not a Given

Social isolation has recently gained much attention as a health risk, especially for older adults, but a new study finds that seniors aren’t any lonelier now than prior generations.  We often think that because so many people are happy at home in their digital bubble, older adults in the community are isolated but seniors today also have greater access to support systems than in the past.  

According to a recent CTV News report, a University of Chicago study found that older adults between the ages of 50 and 74 are less lonely than their parents were at the same age due to better educational opportunities, health care and social relationships.  But the research, published in Psychology and Aging, also found that as the baby boomer generation ages over the next 20 to 30 years,  more seniors in their late 70s and 80s will experience loneliness.  Elderly adults past 75 are more likely to be lonely when a spouse dies or they experience chronic health problems.  Maintaining meaningful relationships with friends and family and protecting good health is increasingly important at this age. 

Loneliness and social isolation are considered by health care professionals as a silent epidemic among seniors which has been linked with depression and poorer physical health.  But adults who keep a positive outlook, set goals for themselves and feel they have control over their own lives report loneliness less often.   Maintaining a close friend group and having a sense of purpose also helps seniors stay connected with their communities in an era when traditional social outlets in neighborhoods and at places of worship are less a focal point.  

More seniors over the age of 65 are choosing to live with one another or with their adult children according to the most recent 5-year data sets from the United States Census Bureau.  Fewer older adults in this age group are living in nursing homes or alone.  More co-housing opportunities are cropping up across the country and with rising living expenses, many seniors are making the decision to create their own communities with other older adults to help provide one another with support and companionship.  And because men are living longer, fewer older woman are widows living alone. 

The bottom line?  Loneliness in older age is not a given.  With a proactive approach and a positive attitude, older age can be a meaningful, fulfilling and exciting chapter of life.