Are Older Adults As Lonely As We Think? by Leslie Martinez Luevanos

lonely-older-adult

Human development is an inevitable part of a human’s life. There are various obstacles that humans have to face and certain stages of development that one has to go through to reach a certain age or point in their life. Development is something that a lot of individuals look forward to. However, there are many individuals that do not look forward to development, more specifically aging. That is because of the negative stereotypes that come with aging and growing old.

Stereotypes can be defined as the widely held but fixed or oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. When it comes to aging and the elder, there are various stereotypes that individuals have, such as older people have terrible hearing and memory, they do not engage in any sexual relationships, or that they are very lonely. However, one has to keep in mind that these are all stereotypes. One of the most common stereotypes of aging, and the one that will be talked about in this article, is that older adults are very lonely.

There are many reasons as to why older adults being lonely is a stereotype. For example, many younger individuals tend to see older adults eat by themselves in public. Or other individuals only see older adults when they are by themselves, rather than when they are engaging in relationships with other individuals. In the article “Older Adult Loneliness: Myths and Realities” by Pearl Dykstra, many individuals tend to attribute older adults as having more loneliness than the actual loneliness that the elderly has experienced. Individuals tend to place negative stereotypes of loneliness on older adults that causes them to believe that the older one gets, the lonelier they will be.

Personally, I have believed this stereotype to be true. Whenever the topic of older adults comes up, I immediately think about how older adults are often very lonely and that the older one gets, the more relationships they lose and lonelier they will be until they eventually die. However, there are multiple articles and studies that have contradicted this stereotype and acknowledge the fact that older adults have stronger relationships and do not feel as lonely as others presume they are.

Disability can play a role as to why individuals believe that older adults are often lonely. Cognitive impairment may impact the pathway of loneliness for individuals in regards to the social interactions they have with their friends and family (Burholt et al. 2016). Disability actually has a significant indirect effect on the loneliness that older adults experience. Older adults that have any disabilities are less lonely and engage in social relationships. The idea that older adults with disabilities have a problem with loneliness is just a stereotype and proves the contradiction of the stereotypes that older adults are lonely.

Another way that the stereotypes of loneliness in older adulthoods is contradicted is through the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Researchers conducting the study looked at the association between what the expectations of loneliness in older adulthood are and the actual self-reporting eight years later. Participants aged 50 years or older took the Health Survey for England (HSE). Loneliness was measured by a three-item short form of UCLA loneliness scale, composed of three questions: “How often do you feel lack of companionship”, “How often do you feel left out”, and “How often do you feel isolated from others” (Pikharvota et al. 2015).

Out of the sampled populations, 4465 participants did not report having loneliness. What this study concluded in relation to the negative stereotype of older adults being lonely was that 32% of the respondents agreed with the statement that they expected to get lonelier as they got older. However, the correlation of the respondents believing the stereotype and the stereotype actually occurring was only 0.45.

This study has allowed individuals to see how if an adult has the stereotype in mind that once they are older they will in fact be more lonely, then they will demonstrate a correlation to these two. Aside from the fact that some individuals did feel as though they were lonely because of the negative stereotypes that were in mind, most individuals in this study reported that they did not feel lonely as they aged. This is another example that shows how the stereotype of older adults aging is contradicted.

One last example of how the overall stereotype of loneliness in aging is contradicted is through the article “It Takes Two to Tango: Why Older People Have the Best Relationships” by Karen L. Fingerman and Susan T. Charles. Overall, the article states that older adults report more positive relationships and fewer conflicts in their relationships. For example, many older adults reported that they had better marriages, more supportive friends, less conflict with children and siblings, and closer ties with social-network members than younger adults have. (Fingerman and Charles 2010).

Overall, younger and older adult are treated differently. Researchers have found that older adults are more likely to employ avoidant strategies when it comes to relationship conflict, rather than younger adults would. This strategy helps individuals express sentimental feelings towards the older adult that can really lead to stronger relationships between older and younger adults. Another reason that help older adults have those strong relationships is through the relationships that these individuals seek. Older adults tend to have more long lasting relationships with other older adults rather younger adults have these relationships with other younger adults. Since there is no big gap in the age difference of the individuals that older adults decide to have relationships with, then the conflicts are minimal and the relationships are reported as stronger.

This article helped identify the reasons as to why older adults have more lasting and stronger relationships and how that plays into the loneliness that they do not feel as they age. The positive relationships that older adults have can really lead to the conclusion that the stereotype that older adults are lonely is false and can be contradicted.

Overall, older adults do have some beliefs that they will be lonely when they are older and can prove the stereotype of loneliness in aging to be true. However, as they age and truly experience aging themselves, they find that the stereotype is not true that and they actually have more positive relationships and do not report feeling lonely as they age.

 

Reference List

Burholt, V., Windle, G., & Morgan, D. J. (2016, November 9). A Social Model of Loneliness:

The Roles of Disability, Social Resources, and Cognitive Impairment. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/doi/10.1093/geront/gnw125/2452336/A-Social-Model-of-Loneliness-The-Roles-of

 

Dykstra, P. A. (2009, April 4). Older adult loneliness: myths and realities. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10433-009-0110-3

 

Fingerman, K. L., & Charles, S. T. (2010). It Takes Two to Tango: Why Older People Have the Best Relationships. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0963721410370297

 

Pikhartova, J., Bowling, A., & Victor, C. (2015, March 25). Is loneliness in later life a self-fulfilling prophecy? Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13607863.2015.1023767?scroll=top&needAccess=true

 

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