everyone is lonely, survey says

Over 75 percent of adults will experience moderate to severe loneliness throughout their life, but especially during these three age periods.

by Nicole DeMarco
21 December 2018, 4:06pm

Photo by Alice Joiner

Earlier this year, an upsetting study revealed that loneliness is worse for you than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And obesity. And that young people are far more likely to be depressed than senior citizens. We’ve long been warned about the epidemic that is loneliness, which seems to be more and more common. A new study concludes that while moderate to severe loneliness occurs throughout adulthood, it’s most persistent in three specific age periods: late-20s, mid-50s, and late-80s. Yikes.

The study consisted of 340 San Diego County residents, between the ages of 27 and 101. Nearly 75 percent of study participants reported moderate to high levels of loneliness using the well-known UCLA Loneliness scale, a self-reported measure of social isolation, and the San Diego Wisdom Scale. Previous study estimates ranged between 17 and 57 percent, for comparison.

"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," study leader Dilip Jeste, MD says. "Though there were clear demographic limitations to the group, these participants were, generally speaking, regular people."

The study suggests that mild loneliness is common and appears occasionally throughout adult life. But it’s the high percentages of moderate and severe loneliness that are especially concerning, given that loneliness is often associated with many other conditions, according to first author Ellen Lee, MD, like poor mental health, substance abuse, cognitive impairment, and worse physical health — including malnutrition, hypertension, and disrupted sleep. The authors admit that there are plenty of gaps in knowledge and that more research must be conducted.

The silver lining? If you can call it that. It seems that people deemed “wiser” are less lonely. "That may be due to the fact that behaviors which define wisdom, such as empathy, compassion, emotional regulation, self-reflection, effectively counter or prevent serious loneliness," Lee says. According to the survey, there were no sex differences in loneliness prevalence, severity, or age relationships. We’re all just lonely. But it’s normal. Luckily, there are zines and guides and of course memes to help us through it.