Loneliness in Older Adults by: Sydney Rounsaville

Grandma Twila is an 84-year old woman who spends most of her time watching the time. She gets up every morning usually around five o’clock and moves from her room to the couch. Around seven, the clinking of her spoon shoveling in her cereal wakes the rest of the house up. Eventually everyone leaves the house to head to the work or school. She sits, rotating from crossword puzzles, to Law n Order. At noon, on the dot, she gets up and makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich even though there is a note directing her to left overs in the fridge, which she had read, thrown away, and already forgotten she was suppose to do. After lunch she moves back to her spot, but of course getting up and down to make sure the cats are okay and that she did not mess up her pills. As she sits and thinks (mostly worries) about when we will be home, one or many would label her as a lonely older adult. Most of society believes that as one gets older, they feel lonelier. This stereotype and research suggests that loneliness in older adults may have peaked in adolescence, the awareness of loneliness provokes loneliness, emotional loneliness exists, and certain groups in society have greater loneliness than others. This paper discusses the validity of loneliness in older adults throughout these articles.

In an article written by Keming Yang and Christina Victor, discusses how evidence has suggested that adolescence is the peak age for suffering from loneliness in older adults. The purpose of the study was to find out the rates of loneliness across different age groups in 25 European nations, but mostly if older people (60+) are lonelier than younger or older age groups. The participants filled out the cross-sectional European Social Survey. The ages ranged from 15-101 years old in the study. The sample size was a total of 47,009 people. This survey is used to explain the connection between Europe’s changing institutions and attitudes of its multicultural population (Yang & Victor, 2011). These results determined that the prevalence of loneliness does increase with age for a combined sample, but the nation in which an individual lives shows a higher impact than age. Russia and Eastern European nations (Group 1) have the highest proportions of lonely people and Northern European nations have the lowest (Group 2). This article supports my stereotype because the results demonstrated loneliness increases with age, but it also showed that where one lives influences loneliness much more. John Cavanaugh and Blanchard-Fields’s discuss in their textbook (chapter 11) how relationships change over time and with life transitions usually one has fewer friends (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2015). One’s quality of life depends on their quantity and quality of friends. In older adulthood, having friends takes the role of lost love ones or retirement. Cavanaugh and Blandard-Fields also explain how the processes of the brain change when situations are faced alone or with someone else. This means that if one does not have close friendships, one’s brain function will change for the worst. This article disputes my stereotype of loneliness in older adults (my grandma) because age and loneliness combined saw that those under 30 had higher levels of loneliness than those above 80.

Another article written by Eric Schoenmakers, Theo Tilburg, and Tineke Fokkema (2013), discusses two risk factors of loneliness: poor health and widowhood. The purpose of the study is to find out if older adults aware of these two risk factors for loneliness, if there is a difference between third agers and fourth agers in this awareness, and if there are differences in awareness between lonely and non-lonely adults (Schenmakers, Tilburg & Eokkema, 2013). This study had 920 respondents from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA) participate and all were asked if they expected third and fourth agers to be lonely (Schoenmakers et al., 2013). This continuing study of physical, cognitive, emotional, and social functioning of older adults had three studies conducted. Participants were asked four different fictional stories about an individual’s health, martial status, and age (Schoenmakers et al., 2013). Results demonstrated that third agers had a high awareness of loneliness-provoking factors to be lonely than others who are not exposed (Schoenmakers et al., 2013). More results were found that third agers believed they were less lonely than fourth agers and lonely older adults believed others to be lonelier often than non-lonely older adults do. This article disputes my stereotype because older adults are aware of loneliness and are able to fix it if they want to. John Cavanaugh and Blanchard-Fields’s discuss in their textbook (chapter four) how there is a health-related quality of life (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2015). Because of this, many older adults experience changes in their quality of life due to their health status. Once one’s health status becomes too hard to manage or endure, one must decide when is it too much work to live (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2015).

In the article, Elisa Tiilainen and Marjaana Seppanen, discusses their study of how relationships of older adults and experiences of emotional loneliness are connected. Many older adults live alone and these researches wanted to find out what experiences are associated with loneliness with the absence of specific attachment figure (Tiilanien & Seppanen, 2016). There was ten participants of this study, six being women and four being men. Within the three birth cohorts, two questionnaires and clinical measures, the researches found that widowhood, the loss of friendship, and loneliness share a link within older adults (Tiilanine & Seppanen, 2016). The researchers explained that the value of friendships depend on how meaningful the connection is. An article written by Abby Botek, states “Loneliness is contagious. Older adults who feel lonely are more prone to behave in ways that may cause other people to not want to be around them,” (Botek, 2012). Botek also discussed in a UCSF study that the participants who took part and said they were lonely, were married or living with a partner. This made the researches believe that meaningful relationships are more important than the number of relationships one has. Tiilanien and Seppanen’s article supports my stereotype of loneliness because not all older adults have the social interactions or significant others they once had and that is effecting their loneliness.

The article by Mark Hughes discusses how the loneliness among older adults is greater in the LGBTI community. His study focuses on the social support LGBTI people over the age 50 received in New South Wales, Australia (Hughes, 2015). 312 individuals participated in the study by filling out an online survey. Hughes study’s results found that there is not connection between loneliness and age, sex at birth or current gender (Hughes, 2016). It was greater that individuals experienced loneliness significantly higher if they live alone compares to those who do not. It was also found that those in a relationship were lonelier than those who had a significant other. Within social support, research stated that their friendships were more important than their biological family (Hughes, 2016). In Cavanaugh and Blanchard-Fields’s textbook (chapter 11), also explains that gay and lesbian couples receive less support from family members than heterosexual couples do (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2015), but with the new law legalizing gay and lesbian marriage, hopefully this will change. This article supports my stereotype because loneliness can be fulfilled in many other ways than a significant other. It could be a friend.

When I first started this paper, I believed my Grandma Twila was lonely because of her daytime tasks and time spent alone. She is a widower and has been for over thirty years. Even though she lives at my parent’s house with my sister and I now, her dependence has become greatly higher on people than she has had in years. My grandma is in almost perfect physical health (knock on wood). After learning many things from the articles I researched, I believe I am lucky I get to be close with her in this time of her life. I do not how much time she has left, but when I am home, I hope to bring her less-loneliness.


Botek, A. (2012). The Elder Loneliness Epidemic. Retrieved from   https://www.agingcare.com/articles/loneliness-in-the-elderly-151549.htm

Cavanaugh, J. C., & Blanchard-Fields, F. (2015). Adult development and aging (7th ed.).   Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.

Hughes, M. (2015). Loneliness and social support among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and   Intersex people aged 50 and over. Ageing and Society, 36(09), 1961-1981.     doi:10.1017/s0144686x1500080x

Schoenmakers, E. C., Tilburg, T. G., & Fokkema, T. (2013). Awareness of risk factors for            loneliness among third agers. Ageing and Society, 34(06), 1035-1051.      doi:10.1017/s0144686x12001419

Tiilikainen, E., & Seppänen, M. (2016). Lost and unfulfilled relationships behind emotional          loneliness in old age. Ageing and Society, 1-21. doi:10.1017/s0144686x16000040

Yang, K., & Victor, C. (2011). Age and loneliness in 25 European nations. Ageing and Society,     31(08), 1368-1388. doi:10.1017/s0144686x1000139x


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