Feeling Lonely? What We Want From Our Relationships Can Change With Age

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Overview: Expectations of what a person expects from an interpersonal relationship change significantly as we age. Researchers say many people still feel lonely even if they don’t spend too much time alone.

Source: duke university

Not everyone’s vacation plans resemble a Hallmark map.

If the “most wonderful time of the year” isn’t your reality, you’re not alone. You may have an idea of ​​a festive, perfect holiday season, but what actually happens isn’t always right.

And that’s where loneliness comes from, says King’s College London graduate Samia Akhter-Khan, lead author of a new study on the subject.

“Loneliness results from a discrepancy between expected and actual social relationships,” Akhter-Khan said.

Together with Duke psychology and neuroscience Ph.D. Leon Li, Akhter-Khan and colleagues co-authored a paper on why people feel lonely, especially later in life, and what we can do about it.

“The problem we identified in the current study was that we didn’t really think about: What do people expect from their relationships?” said Akhter-Khan. “We work with this definition of expectations, but we don’t really identify what those expectations are and how they change across cultures or across the lifespan.”

In any relationship, we expect certain basics. We all want people in our lives that we can ask for help. Friends we can call on when we need them. Someone to talk to. People who ‘understand’ us. Someone we can trust. Companions with whom we can share fun experiences.

But the team’s theory, called the Social Relationship Expectations Framework, suggests that older people may have some relationship expectations that have been overlooked.

Akhter-Khan’s first clue that the causes of loneliness may be more complex than meets the eye came during a year she studied aging in Myanmar from 2018 to 2019. She initially assumed that people would generally not feel lonely – after all, “people are so connected and live in very close-knit societies. People have large families; they are often around each other. Why should people feel lonely?” to feel?”

But her research suggested otherwise. “It turns out to be different,” she says. People can still feel lonely even if they don’t spend much time alone.

What efforts to reduce loneliness have neglected, she said, is how our relationship expectations change as we age. What we want from social connections when we’re thirty, say, isn’t what we want when we’re seventy.

The researchers identified two age-specific expectations that have not been taken into account. First, older adults want to feel respected. They want people to listen to them, be interested in their experiences and learn from their mistakes. To appreciate what they’ve been through and the obstacles they’ve overcome.

They also want to contribute: giving back to others and their community and passing on traditions or skills through teaching and mentoring, volunteering, caring or other meaningful activities.

Finding ways to meet these expectations as we age can go a long way toward combating loneliness later in life, but research has largely ignored them.

“They’re not part of the regular scales for loneliness,” Li said.

Part of the reason for the oversight may be that older people’s labor and contributions are often not accounted for in typical economic indices, said Akhter-Khan, who worked as a graduate research assistant for a Bass Connections project at Duke in 2019-2020 on how society values ​​care in the global economy.

Together with Duke psychology and neuroscience Ph.D. Leon Li, Akhter-Khan and colleagues co-authored a paper on why people feel lonely, especially later in life, and what we can do about it. The image is in the public domain

“Age discrimination and negative age stereotypes don’t help,” she added. A 2016 World Health Organization survey of 57 countries found that 60% of respondents said that older adults are not well respected.

Loneliness is not unique to the elderly. “It is also a problem of young people,” Akhter-Khan said. “If you look at the distribution of loneliness over lifespan, there are two peaks, and one is in younger adulthood, and one is in old age.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, world leaders started sounding the alarm about loneliness as a public health problem. Britain became the first country to appoint a minister for loneliness in 2018. Japan followed in 2021.

Also see

This shows a man standing alone

That’s because loneliness is more than a feeling — it can have real health consequences. Persistent loneliness has been linked to a higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and stroke, and other health problems. Some researchers suggest it is similar or riskier than smoking and obesity.

The researchers hope that if we better understand the factors that cause loneliness, we might be able to do something about it.

About this relationship and aging research news

Author: Robin Smith
Source: duke university
Contact: Robin Smith – Duke University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original research: Open access.
“Understanding and addressing older adult loneliness: The social relationship expectations framework” by Samia C. Akhter-Khan et al. Perspectives on psychological science


Abstract

Understanding and addressing older adult loneliness: The social relationship expectations framework

Loneliness is an experience that results from a perceived discrepancy between expected and actual social relationships. While this discrepancy is widely regarded as the ‘core mechanism’ of loneliness, previous studies and interventions have not paid sufficient attention to what older people specifically expect from their social relationships.

To address this gap and to situate research on older adults’ loneliness within broader developmental theories of longevity, we propose a theoretical framework that outlines six key social relationship expectations of older adults based on research from psychology, gerontology and anthropology: availability of social contacts, receiving care and support, intimacy and understanding, fun and shared interests, generativity and contributions, and being respected and valued.

We further argue that a full understanding of loneliness across life requires consideration of the powerful effects of contextual factors (e.g., culture, functional impairments, social network changes) on the expression and fulfillment of older adults’ universal and age-specific relationship expectations. .

The proposed framework for social relationship expectations may be fruitful for future loneliness studies and interventions for a heterogeneous aging population.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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