"The relationship between social disconnectedness and mental health appears to operate through feelings of loneliness and a perceived lack of social support."
Researchers measured the degree to which older adults are socially connected and socially active. They also assessed whether older adults feel lonely and whether they expect that friends and family would help them in times of need.
However, the researchers found a different relationship between social isolation and mental health. Older adults who feel most isolated report 65% more depressive symptoms than those who feel least isolated, regardless of their actual levels of connectedness. The consequences of poor mental health can be substantial, as deteriorating mental health also reduces people's willingness to exercise and may increase health-risk behaviours such as cigarette smoking and alcohol use.
The most socially connected older adults are three times as likely to report very good or excellent health compared to those who are least connected, regardless of whether they feel isolated.
Older adults who feel least isolated are five times as likely to report very good or excellent health as those who feel most isolated, regardless of their actual level of social connectedness.
Social disconnectedness is not related to mental health unless it brings feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Older adults who are able to withstand socially isolating circumstances or adjust their expectations so they do not develop strong feelings of loneliness may fare better... The study included interviews with about 3,000 people aged 57-85 between 2005 and 2006.
Aging often brings changes in social relationships as individuals retire, take up new activities, endure losses and experience health changes... For some older adults, a shrinking circle of friends and family can lead to feelings of loneliness or isolation.
But older people who are able to adjust to being alone don't have the same health problems.
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