Caring for a partner appears to be associated with increased feelings of loneliness for those over 50, a new systematic review of published research shows. Data from 28 studies indicate, however, that volunteering or caring for grandchildren can help reduce loneliness.

An international team of experts, led by scientists from King’s College London, UK, say the results of their analysis highlight the need to develop specific interventions to combat loneliness in older adults who care for their partners.

Research by the team at King’s College indicated that people aged over 50 can feel overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness when they spend most of their time caring for people with complex health conditions, according to Medical Xpress.

Caring for grandchildren or volunteering can reduce loneliness

The lead author of the research, Samia Akhter-Khan, stated that there is an urgent need to find specific solutions to reduce the feeling of loneliness of people who care for their partners.

“Loneliness can make people feel isolated and disconnected from others and can have negative effects on their mental and physical health. There is an urgent need to identify people who may be more vulnerable to feeling lonely and to develop specific solutions to prevent and reduce loneliness in these population groups. Our research suggests that caring for a partner with complex health conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s is linked to high levels of loneliness, while caring for children or volunteering may reduce loneliness in older adults,” says the author. lead, Samia Akhter-Khan, PhD student at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London.

In the study, the authors examined the link between specific types of unpaid activities – volunteering, caring for a partner or grandchildren – and loneliness in people over 50.

Research has shown that:

  • Caring for grandchildren (or other unrelated children) was linked to reduced loneliness in six of seven studies;
  • Partner or spouse care was consistently associated with greater loneliness;
  • Five out of six studies reported a relationship between volunteering and lower levels of loneliness.

COVID-19 has led to an increase in the number of people experiencing loneliness

“Further research will now be needed to investigate the needs of older carers – as well as to examine the barriers, opportunities and fulfillment of engaging in meaningful activities. This could help clarify the optimal dose of volunteering and grandchild care and identify ways to maximize their potential beneficial effects in combating loneliness in people over 50. Respecting older adults for their contributions and valuing their unpaid activities is likely to play an important role in alleviating loneliness,” adds co-author Dr Matthew Prina, head of the Social Epidemiology Research Group at King’s College London.

The paper points out that all the studies included in this review were conducted in higher-income countries and before the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to an increase in the number of people experiencing loneliness.

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