Loneliness in the life course of older adults: a qualitative inquiry exploring loneliness in the life course of older adults (65+)
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Background: Loneliness is increasingly seen as a public health issue for older adults. Over the years, several interventions to alleviate loneliness have been developed. The evidence of the effectiveness of these interventions is inconclusive. The limited success of interventions may be caused by an insufficient understanding of the roots of loneliness. To gain a better understanding of loneliness in late adulthood, it may be helpful to take a life course perspective. This qualitative study contributed to the literature on loneliness by researching how older adults make sense of loneliness in their life course. More specifically, this study investigated how life events affect feelings of loneliness, how older adults perceive loneliness and how older adults utilize(d) coping strategies to manage or alleviate loneliness throughout their lives. Methods: 11 in-depth interviews were conducted among older adults between the ages of 68-88 with current or past experiences of loneliness. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used for the data analysis. Results: Findings show that there is not one way in which older adults make sense of their loneliness experiences, because participant’s life stories are very different. Loneliness is not confined to old age as participants identified a range of life events related to loneliness at different stages of their life course. Participants mentioned the interplay between life events, their perceptions of loneliness and how they coped when they talked about loneliness, emphasizing the importance of addressing these three topics to gain a comprehensive understanding of a person’s experience of loneliness. Conclusion: This study shed light on how life events affect loneliness, how loneliness is perceived by older adults and how older adults cope with loneliness. These insights emphasize the value of a life course perspective to increase our understanding of loneliness. These insights can contribute to the development of effective interventions to alleviate loneliness.