Seniors Are Not More Lonely Than Previous Generations Thanks to 'Sense of Control,' New Studies Show

Two new studies indicate that older people are not any lonelier than those of previous generations, according to a news release from the American Psychological Association. Individuals born during later generations could actually be less lonely because of a greater sense of control over their own lives.

According to studies cited by the Health Resources and Services Administration, loneliness contributes to a 45 percent increased risk of mortality in aging adults who report loneliness. Social isolation can also be caused by physical impairments, retirement and living by one's self.

Conclusions from both new studies point to what has become known as the "loneliness epidemic" among older adults is not as prevalent as once thought.

"We found that older adults who felt more in control and therefore managed certain aspects of their lives well, such as maintaining a positive attitude, and set goals, such as going to the gym, were less lonely," said Bianca Suanet, Ph.D. of Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. "Additionally, as is well-known in loneliness research, participants who had a significant other and/or larger and more diverse networks were also less lonely."

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New studies indicate that even relationships aging adults form through social media can help reduce the amount of loneliness they feel. Getty

Researchers in the Netherlands gathered data from a span of adults born between 1908 and 1957. Survey questions required participants to rate their feelings about loneliness on a numerical scale.

Conclusions from that study indicated that older adults need to take it upon themselves to be social and make friends, nurturing relationships that help them overcome the loneliness of growing older. In addition, any interventions designed to reduce loneliness should not offer social outlets alone, but encourage older adults' sense of control.

"People must manage their social lives better today than ever before because traditional communities, which provided social outlets, such as neighborhoods, churches and extended families, have lost strength in recent decades," Suanet stated. "Therefore, older adults today need to develop problem-solving and goal-setting skills to sustain satisfying relationships and to reduce loneliness."

American researchers embarked on a similar study which revealed that older adults are no lonelier than adults from generations that came before.

"We found no evidence that older adults have become any lonelier than those of a similar age were a decade before," according to study lead author Louise C. Hawkley, Ph.D. of NORC at the University of Chicago. Reports of loneliness began to increase in adults older than 75, but there was no difference in the level of loneliness found between Baby Boomers and adults of equitable age from generations before.

Adults between the ages of 50 and 74 reported feeling less lonely. However, when the generation of Baby Boomers starts to hit their late 70s and 80s, the number of lonely seniors could increase.

"Our research suggests that older adults who remain in good health or maintain social relationships with a spouse, family or friends tend to be less lonely," said Hawkley. "Video chatting platforms and the Internet may help preserve their social relationships. These tools can help older adults stay mobile and engaged in their communities."