Getting a chronic illness tends to increase feelings of loneliness, including among those with a steady partner of 50 years or more, a new Concordia University study indicates.
The study was conducted among 121 older adults who were mostly in their 70s. It measured changes in loneliness between 2004 and 2012.
Researchers Meaghan Barlow and Sarah Liu found that, faced with a bleak diagnosis, feelings of loneliness increase among sick people, regardless of being in a long-term relationship.
“The quality of our social ties plays a role when it comes to coping with the effects of serious disease in later life,” researcher Barlow notes.
However, “just having a partner around may not be enough,” she adds.
Seniors with serious illnesses should be aware that cutting oneself off from social contacts for any reason is the wrong approach.
The psychological side effects of disease can be offset by “an increase in inspiring activity.”
“The challenge for society is to help an aging population find motivation to stay engaged,” the study suggests.
First author Barlow notes that since loneliness can lead to further complications, measures can be taken “to prevent the effects from looping back around.
“Finding different ways to connect with other people also means you are less likely to blame yourself for being sick, and you can’t count on a partner to fill that gap.”
Carsten Wrosch, associate professor of psychology who holds the university’s research chair in aging and health, supervised the study.
It was published in Health Psychology, the official scientific publication of the American Psychological Association’s division of Health and Psychology.