New study about loneliness among elderly in Europe

Loneliness can be an unpleasant and distressful emotional state when an individual perceives an imbalance between the actual amount of social relationships and contacts and the amount he or she would wish for. Feelings of loneliness has been portrayed as a major health, well-being and mortality risk factor in previous psychological and sociological research. Loneliness can pose a health burden that is equivalent to several risky behaviors related to health such as smoking, alcohol and physical inactivity, especially among older individuals. While there are studies that have focused on loneliness amongst older adults in various contexts, there are limited evidence on the demographic, health and social patterns of loneliness from a cross-national perspective.

It is essential to identify the factors that are related to loneliness in order to recognize individuals who are at an increased risk of feeling lonely, and to be able to develop strategies to alleviate loneliness. This was the motivation behind a new study aimed at examining the prevalence of loneliness in a nationally representative sample of European older adults (65 years of age and older). The study was based on the first wave of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) that took place between 2004 and 2005 in eleven European countries.

The study showed that women were more likely to feel lonely most of or some of the time as compared to men, and feelings of loneliness seemed to be more common amongst the older ages. The prevalence of loneliness differed significantly between households with different income levels as well as between individuals with different educational attainment levels, with less affluent and less educated individuals being more likely to report frequent feelings of loneliness. The proportion of individuals who declared feeling lonely most of the time compared to none of the time was significantly higher among southern Europeans relative to their Northern counterparts. The proportion of those who reported experiencing frequent feelings of loneliness was also significantly greater among individuals suffering from more than one severe health condition as compared to their healthy counterparts. Furthermore, loneliness was significantly more frequently experienced by individuals who were widowed, whose children had recently moved out of the parental home, those who did not have any children and those who were living without a partner or a spouse.

Based on the findings from the study, the authors of the article suggest that loneliness among older adult Europeans is associated with age-specific adverse health conditions, stressful life events and social isolation indicators. They argue that health and social professionals should consider the importance of loneliness when doing health and psychological assessments. The issue is equally important for health and social policy makers involved in the development of interventions aimed at reducing levels of loneliness to improve well-being and quality of life in older life.

The text above is based on the publication:

Vozikaki, M., Papadaki, A., Linardakis, M., and A. Philalithis. 2018. Loneliness among older European adults: Results from the survey of health, aging and retirement in Europe. Journal of Public Health: 1-12. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10389-018-0916-6