Over the past few decades, there has been a growing concern about loneliness at all ages, especially in middle-aged and older adults. Loneliness, defined as a feeling of isolation or insufficient meaningful personal connections, is consistently associated with unhealthy aging and has been identified as a major risk factor for overall adverse health outcomes.
In a recent cross-cultural study, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and the University of Rome La Sapienza examined middle-aged and older adults in San Diego and Cilento, Italy and found loneliness and wisdom had strong negative correlations.
Study published in the online issue October 1, 2020 Aging and Mental Health, suggesting wisdom may be a protective factor against loneliness.
“An important finding from our study was a significant inverse correlation between loneliness and wisdom. People with higher scores on the measure of wisdom were less lonely and vice versa,” said Dilip V. Jeste, MD, lead investigator of the study, senior associate dean of the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
“Loneliness is consistently associated with poor general health, poorer sleep quality and less happiness, whereas the converse is generally true for wisdom.”
Using the UCLA Loneliness Scale and the San Diego Wisdom Scale, the researchers examined four groups: adults aged 50 to 65 and those older than 90 from Cilento and from San Diego. The researchers found an inverse correlation between loneliness and wisdom in all four groups.
“We translated the rating scales for loneliness and wisdom from English into Italian. It is remarkable that the findings associated with these two traits were largely similar in two very different cultures – rural areas in southern Italy and urban / suburban areas in America. States, both with distinct native languages and unique historical, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, “says Salvatore Di Somma, MD, PhD, lead Italian researcher and professor of emergency medicine at the University of Rome La Sapienza.
The Cilento region in southwest Italy is a relatively isolated rural area believed to have a concentration of individuals older than 90 years. This research was born from the Cilento Initiative on Aging Outcome (CIAO) study which was launched in 2016.
“Both loneliness and wisdom are personality traits. Most of the personality traits are inherited partly and partly determined by the environment,” says Jeste.
Wisdom has several components, such as empathy, compassion, self-reflection, and emotional regulation. Researchers found that empathy and compassion had the strongest inverse correlation with loneliness. People who are more compassionate are less lonely.
“If we can increase someone’s affection, wisdom will increase and feelings of loneliness will decrease,” says David Brenner, MD, vice chancellor of UC San Diego Health Sciences. “At UC San Diego, we have a great interest in increasing empathy and compassion to reduce stress levels and increase happiness and well-being.”
Jeste said studies examining how to reduce loneliness with age will be critical to effective interventions and future health care.
“Routine assessment of loneliness with evidence-based and compassionate interventions for the prevention and management of loneliness should be an integral part of clinical practice. So how do you increase compassion? Utilizing approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy or writing in a gratitude diary can help a person. be more compassionate, “he said.
Jeste noted that the limitation of this study was that it was cross-sectional. Only longitudinal studies can establish a cause-and-effect relationship. Next steps will include testing interventions to increase affection to reduce loneliness.
Co-authors include: Ellen Lee, Tanya Nguyen, Rebecca Daly, Jinyuan Liu, Xin Tu, Douglas Ziedonis, and Danielle Glorioso, all at UC San Diego; Mara Scalcione and Alice Biaggi from the University of Rome; and Paola Antonini, GREAT Health Science, Italy.
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