Special Reports

American Baby Boomers Experience “Loneliness Epidemic” that Social Networking May Help Solve

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Older people, despite talking about the "loneliness epidemic," are not inherently lonelier than previous generations, suggests a new research. Elderly baby boomers throughout the ages are no more depressed than similar-age peers. There are just more of them according to the results of two studies published in the Journal of Psychology and Ageing.

Using data from two US national surveys, researchers at the University of Chicago examined the level of solitude, educational achievement, and overall health of the participants as well as the number of family and friends they feel close to.

They found that loneliness fell between the ages of 50 and 74, and increased in people aged 75 and above, but there was no difference in loneliness between baby boomers and their older counterparts.

Dr. Louise Hawkley, the lead author of the study at the University of Chicago, said they found no evidence that older adults had become any lonelier than those of a similar age a decade earlier.

Nevertheless, the average recorded loneliness begins to rise beyond the age of 75, so the overall number of older adults who are lonely may rise once the baby boomers hit their late 70s and 80s.

Some population analyzes split age brackets at 65, so the precise number of Americans in their late 70s is difficult to say. But by 2017, 15.6% of people in the United States were over 65 years of age. Americans also often work longer than they have in the past decades, giving them more human contact opportunities.

According to the results of the new study, people over 75 were more likely to become lonely, presumably because of life factors such as declining health or the loss of a spouse or significant other. The research suggests that older adults who remain in good health and have social relationships with their partner, family or friends appear to be less lonely, Dr Hawkley continued.

She and her team distributed three different times across two cohorts of adults a questionnaire on nutrition, education levels, isolation and social connections. As predicted, people became lonelier as they grew older. Yet based on their ages, there was no difference in the levels of loneliness of men.

Researchers in Holland found in a similar study that older adults were less depressed than their previous generations' counterparts. Experiment leader Dr. Bianca Suanet of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam said that there is an epidemic of isolation, contrary to the presumption.

Researchers noticed that older adults who felt more in charge and thus handled certain aspects of their lives well, such as maintaining a positive attitude, were less depressed and set goals such as going to the gym. The authors of the study encourage older adults to take personal action to better develop their social ties, such as making friends to help them overcome their growing isolation as they age.

Dr. Hawkley says new technology resources could help older people retain meaningful social connections. Platforms for video chatting and the internet will help preserve their social relationships, she said. Such devices will help older people stay independent and get active in their communities.

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