Monday, February 8, 2016

Loneliness: Another Older Adult Stereotype (Research, Video 1:22)

People often don't realize that loneliness is another older adult stereotype in the same way that beliefs about their having no sex drive, being helpless, boring, unproductive, and in poor health are. This doesn’t mean loneliness isn’t real when it is experienced. In fact, too much loneliness can be destructive. But it’s still one of many ageism stereotypes that are assumed to be necessary parts of aging.

A common belief is that the majority of older adults are lonely and abandoned by families and friends, but this is not true. While family and friends may help influence whether or not they are lonely, older adults are very rarely abandoned by society. A University of California study on the growing trend of older people living alone determined that 1in 4-5 older adults lives alone mainly due to the loss of a spouse. There are 3 times as many women as men who live alone, and 2 out of 3 experience loneliness.

But what about the loneliness stereotype? The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) research project on loneliness studied the  association between expectations and stereotyping of loneliness in old age and actual self-reported loneliness status 8 years later. Researchers used data from 4,465 participants over age 50. Results showed that stereotypes and expectations related to loneliness in old age were significantly associated with reported loneliness 8 years later. They also concluded that interventions aimed at changing age-related stereotypes in the population may have more impact on reducing loneliness than individually based services. While there are conditions in our lives that we can’t control as we age, we can still be more positive in our expectations. Eliminating the self-fulfilling prophecy of loneliness and other older adult stereotypes can greatly impact how we age. We often get exactly what we expect. 

The following video has 10 quotes about being alone that have nothing to do with being lonely. They are all by famous people. Think about them. Be the person you want to know best. Solitude can be a good friend.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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