Over the past few decades, there has been a growing concern about loneliness at all ages, particularly in middle-aged and older adults, but a new study suggests a type of intervention that would not involve relying on other people.
Feeling isolated or not having an adequate number of meaningful personal connections is consistently associated with top risk factors for overall health, and now there are many efforts around the world to tackle it.
In a recent cross-cultural study, researchers in California and Italy joined together and found that there was a significant correlation between wisdom and not feeling alone.
“People with higher scores on a measure of wisdom felt less lonely and vice versa,” said Dilip Jeste, MD, senior associate dean at the Center for Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at UC San Diego School of Medicine. .
Additionally, the study examined middle-aged and older adults in both an urban setting, San Diego, California, and a rural setting, in Cilento, Italy.
“Loneliness was consistently associated with poor overall health, poorer sleep quality, and less happiness, while the reverse was generally true for wisdom,” said Dr. Jeste, the lead researcher on the team, which involved the University of Rome. La Sapienza.
Using the UCLA Loneliness Scale and the San Diego Wisdom Scale, the researchers examined four groups: adults ages 50 to 65 and older than 90 at each location.
Wisdom has several components, such as empathy, compassion, self-reflection, and emotional regulation. The researchers found that empathy and compassion had the strongest inverse correlation with loneliness. The most compassionate people felt less alone.
“It is remarkable that the findings related to these two traits were largely similar in two markedly different cultures: a rural region in southern Italy and an urban / suburban county in the United States, both with different native languages and historical, educational characteristics. and unique socioeconomic. background, ”said Salvatore Di Somma, MD, PhD, Italian principal investigator and professor of emergency medicine at U. Rome La Sapienza.
The Cilento region in southwestern Italy is a relatively isolated rural area believed to have a high concentration of people over the age of 90. This study was born out of the Cilento Initiative on Aging Outcomes (CIAO) study launched in 2016.
“Both loneliness and wisdom are personality traits. Most personality traits are partially inherited and partially determined by environment, ”said Jeste.
“If we can increase someone’s compassion, wisdom is likely to increase and loneliness to decrease,” said David Brenner, MD, vice chancellor for Health Sciences at UC San Diego. “At UC San Diego, we have a considerable interest in enhancing empathy and compassion to reduce stress levels and improve happiness and well-being.”
Jeste said that studies examining how to decrease loneliness as people age will be critical to effective interventions and the future of healthcare.
“Routine assessment of loneliness with evidence-based and compassion-focused interventions for the prevention and management of loneliness should become an integral part of clinical practice. So how does compassion increase? Using approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy or writing in a gratitude journal can help someone to be more compassionate, ”he said.
The study was published in the October 1, 2020 issue of Aging and mental health.
Jeste noted that the next step will be to try a compassion-enhancing intervention to reduce loneliness.
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