Researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine recently conducted a study, published in the International Psychogeriatrics journal, to explore loneliness across adulthood.
To do so, they examined 340 San Diego County residents between the ages of 27 and 101 who participated in previous aging and mental health trials. The subjects with serious physical or psychological ailments, like dementia, and those living in nursing homes or who required substantial living assistance were excluded.
The scientists evaluated the participants’ loneliness using several systems, including the 20-point University of California Los Angeles Loneliness Scale, a self-reported measure of social isolation developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
After analyzing the results, they determined severe loneliness occurred during three age periods: late 20s, mid 50s and late 80s.
"This is noteworthy because the participants in this study were not considered to be at high risk for moderate to severe loneliness. They didn't have major physical disorders. Nor did they suffer from significant mental illnesses such as depression or schizophrenia, in which you might expect loneliness to be problematic," co-author Dilip Jeste said in a statement. "Though there were clear demographic limitations to the group, these participants were, generally speaking, regular people."
The authors noted loneliness is associated with poor mental health, substance abuse, cognitive impairment and bad physical health, such as hypertension and disruptive sleep.
According to the team, this is the first known assessment of its kind, but they said more research is needed.
“There are more gaps in knowledge than there are answers at the moment,” said Jeste. “But these findings suggest we need to think about loneliness differently. It’s not about social isolation. A person can be alone and not feel lonely, while a person can be in a crowd and feel alone. We need to find solutions and interventions that help connect people that help them to become wiser. A wiser society would be a happier, more connected, and less lonely society.”