Lonely Hearts, Helping Hands: Easing Loneliness for Recent Widows with Volunteering

In light of the numerous negative physical and mental consequences associated with loneliness, researchers examined whether becoming a volunteer might attenuate some of the loneliness associated with recent widowhood.

Individuals face a number of challenges when experiencing widowhood, which can include loss of social connections and loneliness. In light of the numerous negative physical and mental consequences associated with loneliness, researchers examined whether becoming a volunteer might attenuate some of the loneliness associated with widowhood.

Using a sample of 5,882 married older adults in the longitudinal Health and Retirement Survey, researchers examined whether starting to volunteer either less or more than two hours per week was associated with decreased loneliness for recently widowed individuals.

It’s no surprise that the researchers found that widowed individuals became significantly more lonely than married individuals. However, they also found that widowed individuals were much more likely than married individuals to begin volunteering, particularly in greater hours per week.

As for the association between volunteering and loneliness, widowed individuals who began volunteering and volunteered for more than two hours per week were significantly less lonely than those who did not begin volunteering or who began volunteering for less time per week.

Compared to individuals who remained married, those who became widowed had higher predicted loneliness overall if they never volunteered, stopped volunteering, continued volunteer work they’d done prior to widowhood, or started volunteering less than two hours per week. On the other hand, those who began volunteering more than two hours a week had very similar loneliness scores to continuously married individuals.

The authors suggest that this observed association for widowed individuals could be not only due to the increased social contact that volunteering can provide, but also the greater sense of purpose that can come with it. While widowhood can be a delicate time, this data adds to the evidence suggesting the importance of providing fresh volunteering opportunities for older adults.

 

Source:

Carr DC, Kail BL, Matz-Costa C, e al. Does becoming a volunteer attenuate loneliness among recently widowed older adults? The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. (2018);  73(3): 501–510.

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