Life Wellbeing Loneliness is felt most intensely in three age groups, study finds

Loneliness is felt most intensely in three age groups, study finds

For many Melburians living alone, the next five weeks will be a challenge. Photo: Getty
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There are three distinct age groups when people feel lonelier than ever, which in turn has been linked to declines in physical and mental health, new research has uncovered.

Increasing levels of loneliness are affecting people in their 20s, mid-50s and late 80s, research published in the journal, International Psychogeriatrics, found.

About 76 per cent of the American research participants aged between 27 and 101, none with serious physical or psychological ailments, experienced moderate to severe loneliness.

Researchers were notably alarmed by the severity of isolation among the participants, and at the prevalence among those aged in their late 20s and mid-50s.

“We thought that it would be little more than a third,” senior author of the study Dr Dilip Jeste said of the overall results.

He said there were wide-ranging studies that suggested it was common for older people to feel lonely. But the loneliness peak discovered among people in their 80s was still higher than expected.

Dr Jeste explained peer comparison was most prevalent among people in their 20s, which could lead to negative self-talk, stress and, eventually, loneliness.

As a period of major decision making, people in their late 20s found themselves comparing their actions and choices to those of others.

“…you often end up feeling that your peers made better decisions than you did, and there’s a lot of guilt about why you did this or did that,” Dr Jeste told CNN.

The mid-life crisis starts in a person’s 50s as health begins to decline and individuals learn they may have chronic diseases, Dr Jeste said.

For those in their late 80s, the deaths of old friends come more frequently and sparks the realisation that “your life span is not forever”, Dr Jeste said.

“And the late 80s is, of course, a period when, if you’re lucky to have survived to that age, then things start getting worse.

“It’s probably the most understandable of the three periods.”

The study also found there was no great disparity between the number of men and women who experienced loneliness.

The study lastly found those with greater wisdom felt less lonely and more happy.

Wisdom was measured in terms of general knowledge of life; emotion management; empathy, compassion, altruism and a sense of fairness; insight; acceptance of divergent values; and decisiveness.

Overcoming loneliness

Psychologist Lyn Bender said everyone felt lonely at some point in their lives.

She said it was crucial people put more effort into developing meaningful and useful relationships, as loneliness was not overcome simply by magnifying your quantity of friends.

“Reach out more to other people and don’t be disappointed if at first you feel they haven’t really understood you. It’s a process, you grow relationships,” Ms Bender told The New Daily.

She recommended talking to a counsellor to overcome trust issues or harmful patterns in social avoidance that may prevent connections with other people.

“It’s a lot to do with engaging with people and taking the risk. You need people and even if you don’t know if it’s going to become a more meaningful relationship, still make the effort,” Ms Bender said.

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