Sunday, August 5, 2018

Patterns of loneliness and social isolation

The research shows that patterns of loneliness, social isolation, and social engagement in retirement and how they relate to factors, including age group, sex, marital status, and living arrangement. Associations with perceived happiness, life satisfaction, and depression are also shown.

Social engagement is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. Social isolation reflects the absence of social engagement and social connectedness within a family, friendship, and community social networks. It is a multifaceted concept that is commonly defined as a low quantity and quality of contact with others and considers the number and types of social network contacts, feelings of belonging, sense of engagement with others, and related attributes.

These social dimensions have gained attention in the gerontological literature, given that social networks comprised of family and friends tend to shrink with age, resilience declines, and one’s ability to live independently in the community becomes challenged in old age. In addition, social isolation has been linked to higher health care utilization and poor health in older age.

While social isolation typically pertains to the objective social contacts in an individual’s social network, loneliness is the subjective perception that intimate and social needs are not being met. Thus, social isolation and loneliness share conceptual and empirical dimensions, but they are also unique. For instance, a person with moderate social connections may feel lonely; and conversely, an individual socially isolated may not feel lonely because they prefer this arrangement.

Subjective perceptions of loneliness and objective assessments of social isolation are both important correlates of health and well-being in middle and later life, including mental health, frailty and chronic illnesses, and mortality

The analyses reveal that:
·       Social isolation is a multifaceted concept as indicated by the variation in associations across different measures.
·       The percentage of individuals reporting being lonely at least some of the time is higher among women of all ages than for men, and this percentage rises with age only for women.
·       The preference for more activity is high overall but declines across the age groups.
·       The mean number of community activities (range = 0 - 8 activities) hovers around 4 over the age groupings, the mid-point on the scale, but it is slightly higher for women than for men.
·       The mean scores in the Social Support Scale range between 78.81 (women 45-64) and 82.78 (men 65-74); thus, reflecting relatively high levels of social support across all age and sex groups.
·       The percentage of persons reporting being lonely some or all of the time is highest among the non-married/non-partnered groups: widowed, divorced/separated, and single in that order. In addition, loneliness is higher among married women than married men, but this sex difference reverses for all other non-partnered groups. Rates of reported loneliness decrease over the three age groups, except for married women.
·       The desire for more participation in activities is highest among the divorced/separated marital status group and exhibits a strong inverse association across age groups.
·       Perceived loneliness is considerably more prevalent among persons living alone versus those who live with somebody. This pattern is more pronounced among men and is maintained across age groups with only slight variations.
·       The preference to participate in more activities is highest for middle-aged persons (45-64) compared to 65-74 and 75+ age groups, and this pattern is consistent across living alone or not.
·       Individuals reporting that they are lonely at least some of the time are considerably less likely to report being happy and this trend decreases with age. Those who report being rarely or never lonely also report high levels of happiness; this finding is constant across the age and sex groups.
·       Persons who express a desire to participate in more activities tend to report lower levels of happiness than those who have no desire for more activities, regardless of age or sex category.
·       Individuals who report being lonely at least some of the time report lower life satisfaction than those stating that they are rarely or never lonely.

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