Isolation and loneliness are prevalent and serious public health problems impacting health, well-being and longevity. Seeking to develop effective interventions, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine analyzed the psychological and environmental factors that cause patterns of isolation in different age classes.
Researchers used a on-line poll of 2,843 participants, ages 20 to 69 decades, from across the United States.
“What we found was a range of predictors of loneliness across the lifespan,” said corresponding senior author Dilip V. Jeste, MD, senior associate dean for Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
The researchers noticed that reduced levels of compassion and empathy, smaller social networks, not having a spouse or a partner and increased sleep disturbances have been consistent predictors of isolation across centuries. Lower societal self-efficacy — or the ability to reflect confidence in exerting control over one’s own motivation, behavior and social environment — and also greater anxiety have been associated with worse loneliness in most age decades, except the 60s.
Loneliness was also associated with a lower level of decisiveness from the 50s.
The study confirmed previous reports of a strong inverse association between isolation and wisdom, especially the pro-social behaviors component (empathy and compassion).
“Compassion seems to reduce the level of loneliness at all ages, probably by enabling individuals to accurately perceive and interpret others’ emotions along with helpful behavior toward others, and thereby increasing their own social self-efficacy and social networks,” said Jeste.
The survey suggested that people in their 20s were dealing with high pressure and stress while trying to establish a career and find a life partner.
“A lot of people in this decade are also constantly comparing themselves on social media and are concerned about how many likes and followers they have,” said Tanya Nguyen, PhD, first author of the study and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “The lower level of self-efficacy may lead to greater loneliness.”
People in their 40s begin to experience physical challenges and health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
“Individuals may start to lose loved ones close to them and their children are growing up and are becoming more independent. This greatly impacts self-purpose and may cause a shift in self-identify, resulting in increased loneliness,” said Nguyen.
“We want to understand what strategies may be effective in reducing loneliness during this challenging time,” said Jeste.
Nguyen said prevention and intervention efforts should think about stage-of-life troubles and isolation. “There is a need for a personalized and nuanced prioritizing of prevention targets in different groups of people,” said Jeste.
Related Journal Article: https://www.psychiatrist.com/JCP/article/Pages/predictors-of-loneliness-by-age-decade.aspx