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The elderly: the implication of social isolation

Older people are those who suffer most from conditions of isolation and loneliness: the situation was particularly serious during the COVID-19 emergency. A study on US patients took stock of the issue.

Loneliness and social isolation go hand in hand with anxiety and depression, especially among older people. This is an easy-to-understand correlation, which probably reached its maximum severity during the recent COVID-19 emergency.

In fact, this issue has been thoroughly studied for years, as demonstrated by a research carried out by some psychologists from the University of Denmark and colleagues in an international collaboration, who considered the mental health of over 3,000 adults aged between 57 and 85 housed in communities, analyzing in particular the lack of social relationships (limited networks of acquaintances and infrequent interactions), the social isolation perceived by each of them (loneliness and lack of support) and the symptoms of psychic disorders.

The subjects were interviewed three times: the first between 2005 and 2006, the second between 2010 and 2011, and finally once again between 2015 and 2016. In all three phases, researchers evaluated with specific standardized scores their state of anxiety and depression.

The analysis of the data showed that the lack of social relationships identified at a given moment was subsequently correlated to a stronger sense of social isolation. Social isolation, in turn, was associated with more frequent symptoms of depression and anxiety. The reverse was also true: those who scored higher for symptoms of anxiety and depression at a certain stage of the interviews were later more socially isolated. These results led researchers to conclude that the number and quality of social relationships on the one hand and the sense of loneliness and isolation on the other affect each other.




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