Loneliness is a prevalent and serious public health problem impacting health, well-being and longevity.
In a new study, researchers examined the psychological and environmental factors that lead to patterns of loneliness in different age groups.
They used a web-based survey of 2,843 participants, ages 20 to 69 years, from across the United States.
They found that levels of loneliness were highest in the 20s and lowest in the 60s, with another peak in the mid-40s.
The research was conducted by a team at University of California San Diego.
The researchers noted that lower levels of empathy and compassion, smaller social networks, not having a spouse or a partner and greater sleep disturbances were consistent predictors of loneliness across all decades.
Lower social self-efficacy—or the ability to reflect confidence in exerting control over one’s own motivation, behavior and social environment—and higher anxiety were linked to worse loneliness in all age decades, except the 60s.
Loneliness was also linked to a lower level of decisiveness in the 50s.
The study confirmed previous reports of a strong inverse association between loneliness and wisdom, especially the pro-social behaviors component (empathy and compassion).
The survey suggested that people in their 20s were dealing with high stress and pressure while trying to establish a career and find a life partner.
A lot of people in this decade are also constantly comparing themselves on social media and are concerned about how many likes and followers they have.
The lower level of self-efficacy may lead to greater loneliness.
People in their 40s start to experience physical challenges and health issues, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Individuals may start to lose loved ones close to them and their children are growing up and are becoming more independent.
This greatly impacts self-purpose and may cause a shift in self-identify, resulting in increased loneliness.
The team says the findings are especially relevant during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Loneliness is worsened by the physical distancing that is necessary to stop the spread of the pandemic.
Intervention and prevention efforts should consider stage-of-life issues.
One author of the study is Dilip V. Jeste, MD, the senior associate dean for Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences.
The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
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