Research on Aging
The Experience of Social Isolation and
Loneliness Among Older Men in Manitoba, January 2003, by Madelyn Hall, Betty
Haven, and Gina Sylvestre, Aging in Manitoba Study, University of Manitoba.
Social Isolation and Loneliness
Being alone and being lonely are not the
same. The term "social isolation" is not a matter of numbers: it is not a
matter of how many people an older individual is in regular contact with
(which is what a lot of the gerontology research tends to focus on). Instead
social isolation tends to refer to a lack of meaningful relationships.
Some older adults have been loners all
their lives, and by personality, inclination or experience may prefer it that
way. Others may have lost their social skills over time. For many older
widowers, their wife was their main relationship and their "social connector"
and when she died, those other ties that she sustained became lost too.
Researchers in Manitoba published a
report looking at social isolation and older men The
researchers looked at the findings from a provincial longitudinal survey on
asked service providers and seniors in focus groups about their experiences and
ideas about social isolation. Here are some highlights from the Manitoba report:
- Service providers note that older men
who do not talk about their feelings may isolate themselves, they may push people
away with unhealthy coping strategies such as alcohol use and "distasteful
- Widowed men may resist accepting
Meals-on-Wheels services because it still means that they eat alone. It was
also suggested by the service providers that older widowed men don't maintain
self-care practices such as taking medications. In addition, men's coping
strategies are often times unhealthy: loneliness and depression led some older
men to alcohol problems and gambling.
- Social isolation and loneliness can
cause other health problems for older men, in addition to depression. The
isolated men tended to have 4+ chronic illnesses; tended to rate their health
as poor and tended to be less satisfied with their lives.
- Service providers noted that being
alone leaves the person with more time to reflect inward and dwell on
problems. Without others to monitor a person's health, gradual
changes might not be noticed, or the individual may not think to seek medical
attention. Also, being alone may make one more resistant to change,
as there is no one to make suggestions or share ideas, and no opportunity to
observe what steps others are taking relative to health.
- The study found that the degree to
which an older man feels lonely is influenced by widowhood, poor life
satisfaction, chronic illnesses and feeling that older adults don't get much
respect (negative perceptions of the treatment that seniors receive).
- In addition, factors that lead to
limited social contacts for older men, included lack of participation in
leisure activities and vision problems. The researchers found that older men
who were older (80+), widowed and living
alone were the men mostly likely to be isolated and lonely.
- The socially isolated older men were
also less satisfied with life and had fewer visits from friends and family,
and they also participated in fewer social activities. Poor health increased
the mens' levels of loneliness, while loneliness negatively affected their
health both in the short term and over a longer period.
- Older men were particularly vulnerable
to isolation and loneliness when they experienced difficulties adjusting to
changes in role identity associated with retirement (farmers retiring, in
particular may find this transition difficult), as well as to changes in
social networks, especially widowhood. The researchers also noted that
improvements in social interaction can have a significant impact on the
well-being of an older person. The report offers recommendations from service
providers and seniors on things that we as individuals and as
agencies can do to reduce the social isolation of men.
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Friday April 22, 2005