Prevention of hopelessness is a key factor in reducing loneliness in old age

(From left to right). In front: Juan Carlos Meléndez and Giulia Barbieri. Behind

(From left to right). In front: Juan Carlos Meléndez and Giulia Barbieri. Behind: Encarnación Satorres and Iradia Delhom.

A research led by Professor Juan Carlos Meléndez, from the Department of Evolutionary Psychology of the University of Valencia (UV), concludes that in hopelessness (set of negative cognitive schemas about the future based on the affective, motivational and cognitive dimensions), not all its factors influence loneliness in older adults. Thus, the motivational and cognitive ones do influence, not the affective one. 138 people from the city of Valencia participated in the study, aged between 65 and 90 years, and an average age of 73.67.

"The main results suggest that the loss of motivation manifested in the decisions of not wanting to strive for something desired, giving up or not wanting to achieve anything in particular (motivational factor) and future expectations and negative anticipations regarding life (cognitive motivation) play an especially prominent role on the feeling of loneliness in older adults, while hope, faith and enthusiasm do not seem to contribute to loneliness (affective factor)", explains Juan Carlos Meléndez.

In addition, he adds that it could be paradoxical, but when the meaning of these factors is deepened, the affective one encompasses aspects related more to the absence of hope than to hopelessness itself, while the motivational and cognitive factors are defined from a point of view based on negative expectations per se, rather than the absence of positive expectations. "In this way, we observe how in relation to hopelessness, loneliness has more to do with the presence of hopelessness than with the absence of hope."

The research starts from the fact that despair and hopelessness are two phenomena with a strong impact during aging due to their high incidence and their psychological implication. Given that hopelessness, specifically loss of motivation and negative expectations about the future, are critical issues for the development of feelings of loneliness in older adults, it is important to address these variables in order to apply loneliness prevention programs.

The study, in which the researchers Encarnación Satorres, Mireia Abella, Elena Real (Faculty of Psychology), Iraida Delhom (International University of Valencia) and Giulia Barbieri (Università de Pavia) also participate, points out that despair could affect social relationships and the perception of their quality in different ways. "A hopeless person is likely to withdraw from social relationships or not try to establish them; while others can also walk away from someone who has no hope. On the other hand, the hopeless person could abandon other objectives or vital obligations, which would create conflicts or interruptions in social relations", explains Juan Carlos Meléndez.

Marital status and loneliness

Marital status also has a significant relationship with loneliness: widowed people seem to have higher levels of loneliness than married and single people, while there do not seem to be significant differences between these last two conditions. "Bearing in mind that loneliness is a subjective experience, possibly greater unpleasant feelings of emptiness and isolation are experienced when there is a loss of a significant and nuclear relationship (widowhood), than when this vital situation has not been experienced and, therefore, no such loss has been suffered (singleness)".

This article has been published by the Revista Española de Geriatría y Gerontología. In the study, 59.4% of the participants were women; 56.5% were married, 28.3% were widowed and 15.2% did not live with a partner. Also, 12.4% had a primary school level; 54.3%, high school and 33.3%, university.

A poster was presented on this research at the II Virtual Congress of the Spanish Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology: "New challenges for aging", which was held from June 2 to 4, 2021. The work received the award for best communication in the form of a poster Salgado Alba Award 2021 in the Area of Social and Behavioural Sciences.

Article : Juan C. Meléndez et al. ’La desesperanza como predictora de la soledad en adultos mayores’. Revista Española de Geriatría y Gerontología 57 (2022) 85-89. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.regg.2022.01.002

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