Recently, AARP released a survey titled Loneliness among Older Adults [pdf] which was conducted during the summer.
The age group included, beginning at 45, is problematic for me. I believe loneliness among people in the middle of their career years have different sources of loneliness from those approaching retirement or who are already there. But that's what we are stuck with and there are some interesting findings.
The survey included 4,610 U.S. residents who participated online. Those who needed it were provided with hardware and internet access. Overall, 35 percent (1,614) reported feeling lonely to various degrees which is an increase from 20 percent, says AARP, over a similar survey 10 years ago.
(The charts below are stolen from the AARP report available here.)
• Loneliness decreased significantly with age. 43 percent of the youngest age group (45-49) reported loneliness compared to 25 percent of the oldest group (70-plus)
• Retired respondents - 37 percent - were less likely to feel lonely that those still working - 30 percent. (no graph)
• Relocation makes a difference. 45 percent of those who relocated within the past year felt lonely compared to 31 percent who had been in their home for at least 20 years.
• Marital status makes a difference. 29 percent of married people felt lonely compared to the highest incidence of loneliness – 51 percent among the never married.
• Religious participation made a big difference. 44 percent of those who never attend religious service reported loneliness compared to 30 percent of those who attend once a month or more.
• 30 percent of those who report 11 or more hours a week spent on hobbies report loneliness compared with 51 percent who have no hobby.
• Overall health is a strong predictor. 25 percent of those who described their health as excellent and 24 percent of those with very good health reported loneliness versus 55 percent of those whose health was poor.
These are a sampling; many other life conditions were surveyed which you can see here [pdf]. (Don't be daunted by the 102 pages; everything after page 25 is appendices.)
It has been well known for many years that loneliness is a health hazard. Varieties of other studies strongly suggest that loneliness in elders is associated with a compromised immune system, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, sleep disorders, dementia, depression and more.
What surprised me in this survey is that loneliness apparently decreases with age and that retired people were somewhat less likely to be lonely that those still working. This survey reported only data, not reasons, but I wonder if, as we gain age and experience, we become more adept at managing loneliness and taking steps to alleviate it.
The most painfully lonely period in my life was childhood. I was terribly shy, didn't how to start conversations with classmates and was teased unmercifully at school for being smart. Books became my friends.
Since then, periods of loneliness have been fleeting and, if I recall correctly, took care of themselves without much effort on my part. An example: when I left my husband, all but one or two of our friends took sides with him, probably because he was a well-known radio star. But when I got back to work (I had been his producer), it wasn't long before I had a robust social life and soon, real friends.
The section of the report on internet usage (begins on page 19) doesn't reveal much difference in the incidence of loneliness and frequency of use of social media, and doesn't mention blogging at all.
But I know for myself, with my two moves to new cities in recent years, this blog with the online friends I've made as a result of it, is a formidable tool for social interaction.
I am curious about your experience with loneliness through the years.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Friko: Kaffedlatsch