Monday, February 3, 2020
Senior loneliness is on the rise. Not only because of the growing rate of seniors, but also due to the forces changing our way of life.
More and more move either to cities or new countries, leaving their elderly relatives back home. In some places, seniors are taken care of by their government; unfortunately, that is a luxury reserved the lucky few living in countries with well functioning social care systems.
It's a problem that's growing out of proportions with what we've seen in the past, just by the mere fact of a mass exodus of people going into retirement daily.
When people go into retirement, they lose the primary source of their daily activities and also many of their everyday social interactions. Especially if you don't have many hobbies or a partner to come home to.
Retirees are increasing in numbers and are sadly one of the demographics most vulnerable to experiencing loneliness. Apart from retirees, the loneliest demographics include people with disabilities, and surprisingly enough teenagers and young adults.
When looking at the most common causes, we get a better idea as to why and hopefully an idea of what to do to combat this growing problem.
The four strongest predictors for loneliness are:
And one myth about loneliness:
Senior loneliness tends to have a specific cause, such as widowhood. Lacking a partner is by far the most significant predictor of loneliness. Single people are more than twice as likely to be lonely2.
Products like Tinder and Bumble have been great for my generation in making it a lot easier to meet, date, and fall in love. While there are similar products targeting 50+ such as Lumen, they have not been nearly as successful.
Studies have been concluded in many countries, the Netherlands, Poland, China, and so on. The results keep coming back unanimous - loneliness is a defining aspect of the expat/migrant experience.
Immigrants report much higher rates of loneliness than the locally born and raised.
Also, the regions left behind by the expats/migrants, such as rural China, Eastern Europe have higher rates of loneliness as a result of younger relatives having moved3.
These are often countries where older people expect to live near and be cared for by younger relatives. When that does not happen, the shock is great.
Big cities are full of people from all over the world and hotbeds of innovation and change - but the way we are designing our towns we are making them increasingly anonymous and isolating.
Modern life is designed to prioritise efficiency over human contact. We self-checkout our groceries, read on twitter what is going on in front of our eyes, and avoid eye contact with fellow commuters as we plug in to hear the latest news.
Smartphones and social media are often blamed for a rise in loneliness. It sounds plausible that connecting online rather than meeting in person would do so.
A study found that the quartile that used social media most often was more than twice as likely to report loneliness as the one using it least4. However, it is not clear whether it is heavy social-media use leading to loneliness, or vice versa.
It's a common belief that rich countries with individualistic cultures are more lonely than others. However, a study found that "severe loneliness" ranged from 30-55% in southern and eastern Europe, versus 10-20% in western and northern Europe1.
Older people are thus less lonely in more individualistic and less family-focused cultures. The same research hypothesised that the lonelier countries in the study are generally more impoverished, and provide inconsistent welfare services and social care.
Lives worth living is as essential as healthy, liveable lives. It can be wise to start thinking about taking the necessary measures to avoid social isolation before we go into retirement.
For many, a sense of belonging to a community organised around a common goal is enough. Joining an exercise group or volunteering are great examples of how to achieve this.
At Mon Tonton, senior wellness is front and center of what we are working to achieve. Ensuring that everyone in retirement has what they need to age independently on their own terms. And mental health is one of the key components of this.
This is the third post in a series of posts on the topic of loneliness. Here are the links to the past posts: