Within the next fifteen years, twenty percent of America’s population will be of the age, or over the age of 65. The incline of the retirement age is continuing to increase. When thinking of the older adult population, loneliness may be a common stereotypical characteristic individuals place on this age group. A factor that has to do with the loneliness stereotype, is retirement. With retirement, comes solitary existence.
According to Developmental Psychology, loneliness is not one in the same as being alone. The purpose of the cross-sectional study in the article, Age Differences in Loneliness from Late Adolescence to Oldest Age, was to examine the differences of loneliness across the adult age span. Loneliness has to do with comparing desired, to actual social relationships. According to Luhmann (2016), “Higher levels of loneliness among older adults are often attributed to the smaller social networks, greater percentage of single households, and more prevalent and/or severe functional limitations among this age group relative to younger adults” (p. 2). The older adult population is more likely to have single households and smaller social networks, which could lead to loneliness. Ways to have a successful retirement/aging process, and avoid potential loneliness, include getting involved in the community, and joining activities. This allows individuals to feel as though they still have a purpose, even though they retired from their career. Many individuals pick up a part time, enjoyable job, such as working at local stores, while they are making some money. Other older adults benefit from joining exercise classes such as water aerobics, or volunteering at community common places such as libraries.
Contributing to society and getting involved in activities helps older adults to have a stronger psychological security and well being (James, Matz-Costa 2016). This prevents isolation and allows older adults to feel as though they are apart of something. It is important for all individuals to have things to live for outside of their careers, especially retirees. Having something to live for after retirement, helps older adults to avoid the feeling of loneliness. Being apart of the community leads to feeling connected to those around them, which would give anyone, not just older adults a sense of belongingness.
As discussed in the article, loneliness does have a factor of age. However, correlation does not mean causation. An adolescent can be lonelier than an older adult, if they are not satisfied with their social relationships. The data stated in the article proves that loneliness levels peak in young adulthood and diminish in early old age between the ages of 65 and 80 (Hawkley, Luhmann 2016). However, then the feeling of loneliness only then increases during the oldest old age, 80 years and older. The research shown in this study states that adolescents have the highest percentage of feeling loneliness due to factors having more significance in youth than old age, but older adults still may also have a sense of loneliness. According to Luhmann (2016), “Loneliness is characterized by a perceived lack of control over the quantity and especially the quality of one’s social activity” (p. 4). So if an older individual does not have control over their social, daily activities, there is a greater chance in them experiencing loneliness. The results of the study concluded that loneliness is unevenly distributed across the age range, and it does progress with age. This article confirmed the stereotype of the increase of loneliness coming with the increase of age, but proved that the sole factor of getting older does not cause loneliness, but the other contributing factors that come with aging.
Leading to the the research found in an article, published in Health Psychology, proves that the amount of older adults who state that they are lonely is low, at approximately nine percent. According to Shankar (2017), “Higher levels of loneliness were associated with an increase in self-reported difficulties with activities of daily living such as being able to dress oneself, bathe and eat, mobility problems, and difficulty with climbing stairs over a 6-year period in a sample of U.S. adults” (p. 179). These factors contribute to the level of loneliness experienced, and pertain to the inability of everyday activities. Resulting in lower levels of loneliness, not necessarily if they are not physically alone, but if the older adult is independent and active. This longitudinal study included 3,070 participants and concluded with loneliness being associated with not being able to perform daily living activities. This study is hard to say if it contradicts or confirms the stereotype, because with older age there is potential to come dependency. On the other hand, with successful aging, comes independence, so depending on whether the older adult is dependent or not, is what would determine their level of loneliness.
In the article, Chronic Illness and Loneliness in Older Adulthood, Meaghan Barlow conducted a study that looked at the effect of chronic illness and health-related control strategies on long-term trajectories of loneliness in older adulthood. Physical health problems have a strong impact on older adults’ level of loneliness (Barlow 2015). The study was an eight year longitudinal study that worked with participants of community-dwelling older adults called the Montreal Aging and Health Study (MAHS). The participants were from 64-83 years old. The individuals were given questionnaires including health related control strategies, chronic illness, and an assessment of loneliness. The independent variable in this study was the participants, while the dependent variable was the various factors contributing to their results, such as SES, partnership status, age, and sex. Chronic illnesses such as osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease have potential of limiting older individuals from engaging with their social environment, resulting in social isolation. This study showed that setting personal goals in older adulthood, even with a chronic illness, can result in overall better well-being. However, goal setting may not improve the illness itself, it helps to improve quality of emotions such as feeling lonely. The results of measuring this study of the correlation between chronic illnesses and loneliness were that loneliness was positively correlated with chronic illness, but negatively correlated with health-related self-protection. The stereotype around older adults and being lonely, has to do with them being physically alone. This article proves that stereotype to be wrong, because there are other factors such as chronic illnesses that contribute to why loneliness may occur within old age. According to Meaghan Barlow (2015), “Loneliness increases in older adulthood as a function of chronic illness. Older adults who engage in self-protective strategies to cope with their health threats might be protected from experiencing this adverse effect” (p. 9).
Loneliness in Older Black Adults with Human Immunodeficiency Virus Is Associated with Poorer Cognition, an article that published research testing to see if Black older individuals showed more loneliness than White older adults. Loneliness expressed from Black adults would be associated with poorer cognitive functioning. In this cross-sectional study, with the Rush Center of Excellence on Disparities in HIV and Aging, there were 370 participants, 177 with HIV, 193 without. The results ended up proving the hypothesis wrong, meaning White older adults were considered lonelier than Black older adults. The independent variables were whether the participant had HIV or not, and their race. This article contradicted the stereotype of loneliness with aging, because it was not measuring whether age had to do with loneliness, it was not even considered to be a factor.
The findings of these studies varied regarding whether or not they contradicted or agreed with the stereotype of loneliness that comes along with aging. After reading through four articles, if an older adult ages successfully, and involves himself in the community, they will be less likely to experience common feelings of loneliness.
Barlow, M. A., Liu, S. Y., & Wrosch, C. (2015). Chronic illness and loneliness in older
adulthood: The role of self-protective control strategies. Health Psychology, 34(8),
Jacquelyn Boone James, Christina Matz-Costa. (2016, May 1). Retirement Security: It’s Not Just
Luhmann, M., & Hawkley, L. C. (2016). Age differences in loneliness from late adolescence to
oldest old age. Developmental Psychology, 52(6), 943-959. doi:10.1037/dev0000117
Shankar, A., McMunn, A., Demakakos, P., Hamer, M., & Steptoe, A. (2017). Social isolation and
loneliness: Prospective associations with functional status in older adults. Health
Psychology, 36(2), 179-187. doi:10.1037/hea0000437