Loneliness can strike at any age, but a new study finds that young adults are the loneliest Americans, with people in their 60s being the least lonely.
Researchers analyzed responses from more than 2,800 people nationwide -- ages 20-69 -- who participated in an online survey.
They found that levels of loneliness were highest among 20-somethings and lowest among respondents in their 60s. Loneliness reached another peak in respondents' mid-40s.
"What we found was a range of predictors of loneliness across the lifespan," said corresponding senior author Dr. Dilip Jeste, senior associate dean for healthy aging and senior care at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
For all ages, predictors of loneliness included lower levels of empathy and compassion; smaller social networks; lack of a spouse or partner; and sleep problems.
Except for people in their 60s, greater loneliness was associated with lower social self-efficacy. That's "the ability to reflect confidence in exerting control over one's own motivation, behavior and social environment," according to a UCSD news release.
Among people in their 50s, loneliness was also linked to a lower level of decisiveness.
The study underscored other findings that have drawn a strong link between loneliness and low levels of wisdom - especially empathy and compassion.
"Compassion seems to reduce the level of loneliness at all ages, probably by enabling individuals to accurately perceive and interpret others' emotions along with helpful behavior toward others, and thereby increasing their own social self-efficacy and social networks," Jeste said.
As to why young adults are so lonely, researchers noted that people in their 20s face significant stress and pressure while trying to establish a career and find a life partner.
"A lot of people in this decade are also constantly comparing themselves on social media and are concerned about how many likes and followers they have," said study first author Tanya Nguyen, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry. "The lower level of self-efficacy may lead to greater loneliness."
And people in their 40s begin to experience physical challenges and health issues, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, she said.
"Individuals may start to lose loved ones close to them and their children are growing up and are becoming more independent. This greatly impacts self-purpose and may cause a shift in self-identify, resulting in increased loneliness," Nguyen said.
The study was published online Nov. 10 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Jeste said the findings are especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We want to understand what strategies may be effective in reducing loneliness during this challenging time," he said. "Loneliness is worsened by the physical distancing that is necessary to stop the spread of the pandemic."
Efforts to prevent and address loneliness need to take into account age-related issues that people might be facing, Nguyen said.More information
For more on loneliness, go to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
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