Positive “Resilience Factors” Can Help Older Adults Mitigate Negative Effects of Loneliness, Study Finds

Positive factors include engaging in activities, expanding one’s social network, and using technology.

“Resilience factors,” such as engaging in more activities, expanding one’s social network, and increasing the use of technology, can lower the risk of loneliness among the elderly, new research finds.

These resilience factors help decrease the negative physical and mental health consequences that are associated with loneliness, said lead author Julianna Liu, a Medical Student Training in Aging Research scholar at Hebrew SeniorLife's Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research.  

These actions can be accomplished through strategies such as involvement at senior centers, participating in volunteer activities, and increasing access to and knowledge of modern technological devices that allow for virtual social connection, Liu said. These actions are practical ways to decrease the detrimental effects of loneliness, she said.

At the same time researchers found that several risk factors increased one’s likelihood of experiencing loneliness: older age, inability to complete daily activities, vision impairment, depression, and anxiety.  Loneliness, a feeling of distress or discomfort in response to perceived isolation, is common among older adults, particularly during periods of social isolation. It can be associated with poor health outcomes, and is therefore an important topic to talk about and prevent if possible.

Researchers used data collected both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic from participants of the Successful Aging after Elective Surgery (SAGES) study during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Participants in the SAGES study have been completing interviews with Hebrew SeniorLife for approximately 10 years; therefore, Hebrew SeniorLife already had a robust dataset with many variables assessing cognition and functioning that were utilized for this COVID-related study.

“This study found several risk factors that increased the chance of experiencing loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown,” Liu said.  “Importantly, it also identified actionable ‘resilience factors’ that helped mitigate some negative effects of loneliness on physical and mental health outcomes,” said Dr. Tamara G. Fong, co-senior author and mentor. These findings were published in the publication, American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, in the paper, Association of Loneliness With Change in Physical and Emotional Health of Older Adults During the COVID-19 Shutdown.

Collaborating Institutions and Researchers

Hebrew SeniorLife: Ray Yun Gou, Eva M. Schmitt, Franchesca Arias, Tammy T. Hshieh, Thomas G. Travison, Tamara G. Fong, Sharon K. Inouye, Eran Metzger
Brown University: Richard N. Jones
Connell School of Nursing, Boston College: Patricia A. Tabloski
Harvard Medical School: Franchesca Arias, Tammy T. Hshieh, Thomas G. Travison, Edward R. Marcantonio, Tamara G. Fong, Sharon K. Inouye
Brigham and Women’s Hospital: Franchesca Arias, Tammy T. Hshieh
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: Eran Metzger, Edward R. Marcantonio, Tamara G. Fong, Sharon K. Inouye

Funding information or grantor requirements

National Institute on Aging, Grant no. 3P01AG031720-08S1 and R33AG071744 to Sharon K. Inouye, and 5T35AG038027-13 (MSTAR fellowship) to Julianna Liu.

About Hebrew SeniorLife

Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is a national senior services leader uniquely dedicated to rethinking, researching, and redefining the possibilities of aging. Hebrew SeniorLife cares for more than 4,500 seniors a day across six campuses throughout Greater Boston. Locations include: Hebrew Rehabilitation Center-Boston and Hebrew Rehabilitation Center-NewBridge in Dedham; NewBridge on the Charles, Dedham; Orchard Cove, Canton; Simon C. Fireman Community, Randolph; Center Communities of Brookline, Brookline; and Jack Satter House, Revere. Founded in 1903, Hebrew SeniorLife also conducts influential research into aging at the Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, which has a portfolio of more than $85 million, making it one of the largest gerontological research facilities in the U.S. in a clinical setting. It also trains more than 1,000 geriatric care providers each year. For more information about Hebrew SeniorLife, visit our website or follow us on our blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.