Greater social contact among older adults may not be a remedy for loneliness, a new study has found.
That is because social contact and emotional closeness is not the same thing. They are separate concepts.
The study participants, who filled out a postal questionnaire, were drawn from a random sample of 6,786 adults, aged 74 years and older, living in urban and rural Finland.
The study, led by Pirkko Routasalo and published in the April 2006 issue of Gerontology, found more than a third of older Finns suffer from loneliness.
However, merely increasing the number of social contacts does not relieve inner feelings of loneliness, according to the study.
Researchers found more than half of both the lonely and not lonely respondents had contacts with children and friends on a weekly basis.
However, the lonely respondents had contact with children and friends less frequently than they had hoped.
As well, about half of the lonely and 62 per cent of the not lonely respondents had contact with grandchildren at least once monthly.
Here again, the lonely respondents felt that they did not have enough contact with grandchildren.
In addition, the not lonely respondents (69.1 per cent) felt more often than the lonely ones (49.3 per cent) that their close people understood them well.
Also, the not lonely respondents knew better what was happening in the lives of their close people.
They were also more satisfied with close relationships than the lonely respondents.
Thus, it is not the number of contacts with children or friends that serve to relieve loneliness but the older adult’s expectations of these interactions and the personal satisfaction derived from them.
In order to relieve loneliness among older people, it is useless to merely increase the number of their social contacts, according to the researchers. Rather, interventions must focus "on enabling an individual to reflect her own expectations and inner feelings of loneliness," the researchers reported.