Thursday, August 6, 2020

Adults May Require Different Interventions for Loneliness Depending on Age

The factors impacting adults’ feelings of loneliness change depending on their phase in life, suggesting there is no “one-size-fits-all” intervention to reduce loneliness, according to a study published in BMC Public Health.

“[T]he factors associated with loneliness vary across different age groups and therefore policymakers and intervention developers should take these factors into account in efforts to reduce loneliness among adults,” wrote Thanée Franssen, M.Sc., of Maastricht University in the Netherlands and colleagues.

The authors used data from the Adult Health Monitor Limburg 2016, a population-based health survey that monitors the self-reported health of adults in the Netherlands between the ages of 19 and 65. The authors split the 26,342 adult participants into three groups: young (19 to 34 years), early middle-aged (35 to 49 years), and late middle-aged (50 to 65 years).

The survey collected information on participants’ demographics (including gender, education, marital status, ethnicity, and employment status), social environment (including living arrangement; volunteer work; frequency of contact with family, friends, or neighbors; and whether they feel excluded from society), and health factors (including any limitations in daily activities due to health problems, chronic disease diagnoses, and levels of psychological distress). The researchers used the Dutch Mental Health Continuum-Short Form to determine participants’ psychological, emotional, and social well-being, and the De Jong-Gierveld Loneliness Scale to measure loneliness.

Overall, 44.3% of adults reported experiencing loneliness, broken down as 39.7% of young adults, 43.3% of early middle-aged adults, and 48.2% of late middle-aged adults. The authors identified some universal factors that influenced loneliness regardless of age group, including living alone, frequency of contact with neighbors, perceived social exclusion, psychological distress, and psychological and emotional well-being.

Other factors were present in specific age groups only. Young adults showed the strongest association between loneliness and their frequency of contact with friends. Being female with an intermediate to high level of education was associated with lower levels of loneliness among young adults only, while having a job was significantly associated with lower levels of loneliness among early middle-aged adults. Among late middle-aged adults, being married was associated with lower levels of loneliness.

In a blog post for BMC Public Health, Franssen explained how the different factors impacting loneliness by age may be especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. “For example, young adults are not able to interact with their friends or classmates face to face anymore. Early middle-aged adults have to work from home, while supervising their children and worrying about their aging parents, whereas for late middle-aged adults visiting their loved ones has become impossible,” she wrote. “So, whatever age you are, the risk of loneliness is always there, lurking in the background. And maybe now more than ever.”

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