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New Study Shows Loneliness Persists Throughout Adulthood

With over 50% of American marriages ending in divorce, loneliness has become fairly common in today’s society. Feelings of loneliness are something everyone experiences throughout life, however. While loneliness is a common emotion, a new study from the University of California San Diego found that moderate to severe loneliness isn’t just fleeting throughout adulthood, but rather it’s quite persistent.

The scientists behind the study looked at 340 adults living in communities. The research found that adults in three different age periods reported feelings of moderate to severe loneliness. These age periods were the late-20s, mid-50s, and late 80s. While this may be good news for areas like Shasta County, which has a median age of 42.2 years, of the 340 participants, three-fourths of them reported moderate to high levels of loneliness.

In the last 50 years, reported rates of loneliness have increased drastically. In previous studies, the rate of loneliness has ranged from 17% to 57%. Recently, public health officials have begun issuing warnings about the increasing rates of loneliness.

According to Dilip Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences said, “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.”

The study participants were assessed using a variety of measures to determine levels of loneliness. This included the 20-point UCLA Loneliness Scale and the San Diego Wisdom Scale. While the analysts found that age and loneliness severity “had a complex relationship”, there seemed to be no relationship between gender and prevalence or seriousness of loneliness.

Ellen Lee, MD, a research fellow in geriatric mental health in the UC San Diego School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and first author of the study, noted that moderate to severe loneliness seems to prevail throughout the majority of adulthood. Not only that, but there seems to be a link between loneliness and poor mental and physical health, substance abuse, hypertension, and more. But based on the San Diego Wisdom Scale, it was found that those who were wiser were less lonely.

The three stages of life that had higher levels of loneliness did make sense to the researchers. According to study leader Dilip Jeste, the late-20s is when people have to make choices about jobs and life partners. Millennials and Gen Yers even accounted for about 34% of homebuyers in 2017 — while this is an exciting time in life, it can also be stressful and lonely. The mid-50s could represent a midlife crisis and the late-80s consist of the awareness of illness and mortality.

Limitations of the study included the participants being mainly Caucasian and the study did not include participants living in nursing homes, those needing living assistance, or anyone with diagnosed dementia.

All in all, the study provided new insight into the feelings of loneliness and the researchers hope to continue conducting further studies in this area.