The health effects of loneliness in older adults are well known. But what causes loneliness in older adults? Research into older people suggests that some factors are more likely to trigger loneliness than others. Among these factors are social isolation, decreased income, loss of family members and decreased mobility. Moreover, the level of loneliness was found to be more closely related to baseline poor health than to social isolation. While these associations were weaker for depression, arthritis and mobility impairment, loneliness was still associated with multiple disease outcomes.
However, the prevalence estimates of loneliness in older adults differ from study to study. Although the prevalence of loneliness in older adults is high enough to justify interventions, the estimates vary from one study to the next, likely due to the different sample populations and measurement approaches. Thus, further research is necessary to improve the reliability and validity of loneliness measures. In the meantime, future studies must develop ways to maximize comparability among loneliness survey questions. The two most frequently used loneliness scales are the DJG Loneliness Scale and the UCLA Loneliness Scale. While both scales have been proven reliable and valid, the multidimensionality of the two scales in older populations must be addressed. Harmonization efforts may make these tools more easily comparable.
One approach to reduce loneliness and social isolation in older adults is heterogeneous interventions. These interventions are delivered either in a care home or community setting. They can also be delivered one-on-one or in groups. The study design should match interventions to the population. And, although many studies have proven that they work, they are not universally effective. In addition to being generalizable, they should be tailored to each individual’s needs.
Researchers have identified that loneliness is a major risk factor for many diseases. A systematic review of loneliness research shows that older people who report feeling lonely are more likely to suffer from mental and physical ailments. Despite its health effects, however, research on loneliness in older adults still lags behind. The researchers conclude that further research should focus on determining the risk factors that make older adults lonely. The researchers also suggest that loneliness interventions can help improve the quality of life of older adults.
Previous studies have identified a link between social support and loneliness. Research has shown that aging adults who are socially isolated may benefit from social connection interventions, while those without cognitive impairment or dementia may benefit from a multifaceted approach. There are many social-cognition-related factors that can influence loneliness, and these factors are also thought to affect cognitive functioning. The next step in reducing loneliness in older adults is research that uses multi-faceted interventions.
Researchers have discovered that loneliness affects the body in a similar way to chronic stress. Loneliness raises levels of stress hormones, which impair immune responses and lead to inflammation. The prolonged loneliness in older adults may make them more susceptible to a variety of chronic health conditions, including depression, cardiovascular diseases, and depression. Moreover, loneliness has been associated with preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. So what causes loneliness in older adults?